I think that there are two secrets of middle age that no one prepares you for—you will never see both near and far completely clearly again and you will constantly struggle with sleep.
I am writing this blog post not as someone who has all the answers but instead as someone who is always looking for help both falling asleep and staying asleep! With the recent time change, it seemed like a good idea to pool our resources so that we have a full arsenal of things to try to overcome our sleep struggles!
I don’t know about you, but I feel like there are a couple aspects of sleep struggles: getting to sleep at the beginning of the night and getting back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night. I think that you’ve told me that you have no issues with getting to sleep initially. I envy that. My husband also drops off in minutes as I lay there secretly seething that he can fall asleep so fast!
I can be falling asleep watching TV on the sofa or literally dropping the book I’m reading in bed. But as soon as I turn the light out—bam! My eyes fly open and my brain turns back on. I’m dating myself with this reference, but my brain is like a Rolodex, just spinning to look for something to obsess about instead of going to sleep. What will it be tonight? That time that you put the wrong link in an email for work? That time you overshared when you ran into an acquaintance in the grocery store? Things that don’t bother me at all during the day can keep me up for hours at night. Does that happen to you?
I have read books on “sleep hygiene”, podcasts about sleep, and more internet articles than I care to share. So I am well acquainted with the basics. I know you need to have a consistent sleep schedule (check), and a dark and cool bedroom (check and check). Those are easy for me.
Some things are not as easy for me, so I’m less consistent about them—no caffeine after 2 pm (I’m getting better about this one). No screens for an hour before bed. Yeah—that one is not happening. I’m usually watching a show on my iPad or reading on my Kindle (which does have a warm light setting). I’m not sure how much this really affects sleep. Do I need blue light blocking glasses for nighttime screentime? I try to stay away from the news and social media at night. I’m just watching cozy mysteries and I’m sure that those murders aren’t affecting my sleep! (ahem). I feel like I should experiment more with this one. Maybe hand stitching while listening to an audiobook?
I employ my crutch of listening to audiobooks more often than I’d like. I have found that listening to a book that I’ve already listened to (so I’m not overly engaged in the story) helps to keep my brain from obsessing. It simply gives my brain something to do. Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised that my go-to for this is Louise Penny mysteries (set to turn off after 30 minutes). I know the stories well but love them. An important element seems to be a male British narrator. It’s that low British voice that really lulls me to sleep! But what I have learned after years of leaning on this crutch, is that it usually helps to get me to sleep, but I think it interferes with me staying asleep. So some nights I’m relying on this crutch multiple times to help get me back to sleep. Lately, I’ve been trying to wean myself off of this, and I think I sleep for longer stretches. What I need to remember is that crutches work best when you only use them occasionally.
I even tried CBD oil for a few months a while back. I wasn’t sure it was working, but when I decided it wasn’t worth the cost and stopped–I realized that maybe it had more of an effect than I realized. It’s kind of an expensive solution though. I’ve heard that magnesium is also helpful, but I think I get enough of that in my multivitamin. I tried the Calm gummies for a while (a magnesium supplement), but eating a gummy 30 minutes before bed doesn’t work for me–I’m in my PJs with teeth brushed by 7:30 most nights! I don’t want to chew a gummy at 10 pm. I know what you’re thinking–but truly–I’m not high-maintenance! (I’d also like to mention that the phrase “eating a gummy” seems to have a different connotation these days … )
However, I am to the point now where I will only endure one bad night of sleep before I pull out some help the next night, usually in the form of Benadryl or melatonin. One Benadryl capsule (25mg) works like a charm to get me to sleep—but even then there is a good chance wake up between 2 and 4 am and have trouble getting back to sleep. It’s like it wears off and then wakes me up. It’s similar with melatonin but less of a sure thing to get me to sleep. I have read that the melatonin available in stores is a much higher dose than we need. Less is better. I’ve been cutting m 5mg melatonin tablets in half, and I’m going to try cutting them in quarters next.
As you know, I got an Apple watch for Christmas and I enjoy the sleep tracking feature. I don’t know how accurate it is–but I have recognized some patterns. I do regularly get 7 hours of sleep, which is good. I don’t think I get enough “deep sleep”. This is apparently one of the best and most restorative forms of sleep and you should aim for 90 minutes a night. I average about 30 minutes and it’s all before midnight. Have you ever heard the saying that your best sleep is before midnight? I think that’s when most deep sleep takes place, at least in older people. It’s interesting for me to see how many times my watch records me as waking up during the night–sometimes it jibes with my memory of the night and sometimes not. It’s just data–I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but I’m finding it interesting.
It seems that I have only laid out problems with no great solutions. So, I turn it over to you–what are your tips and tricks for a good night’s sleep? And dear readers, please weigh in! We’d love to have your input!
I’m writing this from my very cold house, a house that has been without central heat for a week now and will remain without central heat until Monday. Just our luck: our furnace went kaput during central NC’s only cold spell of Winter 2023.
One of the upsides of having a house that’s cold is that I’m sleeping well at night, and if I wake up at 3 or 4, which isn’t unusual, I’m so happy to be cozy and warm under our pile of quilts and comforters that I forget to worry obsessively about whatever’s making me anxious at the moment.
It won’t last, of course. The heat will come back on (thank goodness!), and I’ll find myself awake in the predawn hours, my mind wandering into a bad neighborhood of regret, embarrassment and worry. Sometimes in the normal course of things, I get lucky and sleep overtakes me after twenty minutes or so; sometimes I don’t fall asleep until 6AM. While it’s true that as a self-employed empty nester I can make up for those lost hours by sleeping in, I really hate getting out of bed any later than 8:00.
Like you, if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep, I tend to take Benadryl or Melatonin the following night, just to ensure a solid five hours. I also observe a regular bedtime, exercise daily, avoid coffee after 2PM, etc. But I can drug myself, exhaust myself and deprive myself of caffeine (and sugar), and none of it guarantees a good night’s sleep.
Also like you, I often turn to audiobooks for help. If nothing else, listening to a story keeps me entertained and stops me from spinning out over everything that could possibly go wrong in my life and the lives of my loved ones. Lately, I’ve been listening to David Sedaris’s diaries. There’s no plot to them, just stories about familiar characters: his family, his long-time partner Hugh, various friends who come visit him in various locales.
I wish I knew a remedy for those 4AM wake-and-worry sessions. While I suspect that as long as I have a bladder, I’m going to get up at some point during the night to heed nature’s call, I’d still love to be able to slip back under the sheets and quickly return to the Land of Nod.