Counting sheep at 3:00 a.m.
You’d think that after 60 years, I’d be better at this. But, with all the practice I’ve had, I still have trouble getting an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
I am actually very good at falling asleep. Not long after my head hits the pillow, I’m out. If my husband stays up later than I do, I’m often not aware of him coming to bed. I’m also pretty good at staying asleep for the first four or five hours. The problem usually starts around 3:00 or 3:30 am, when my evil internal alarm clock goes off and I wake up. Then, my thoughts start ricocheting around my brain like steel balls in a cranial pinball machine and all hope for sleep over the next hour or so is dashed.
When I was a student, my nocturnal gnashing of neurons focused on homework or tests, or maybe on some personal issue I was dealing with. After I entered the work world, my relentless ruminations turned to projects, deadlines, and, often, some upcoming presentation I had to make.
Naively, I thought that when I retired these slumber-stealing shenanigans would vanish along with my stress. I should have known that, just as they did when I made the transition from school to work, my 3:00 am wake-up calls would continue to nudge my noggin into nighttime deliberations, only the topics would change. Now, my REM is interrupted with obsessive, mostly non-productive thoughts about upcoming travel, current creative pursuits, or unfinished household projects. Certainly more pleasant subject matter, but the disturbance to my sleep cycle is still the same.
The good news, of course, is that, now that I’m retired I can sleep in a bit to help make up for the divot made in my sleep requirements. I don’t have an alarm clock urging me out of bed at 6:30 am; if I need an extra hour or two in bed, I can usually have them. Unfortunately, what I give up when I sleep in are my early mornings, which I love. I enjoy the quiet and the golden light of the low hanging sun. It is also my favorite time to lace up my tennies and take a walk.
Obviously I’m not the only one with this problem. An Amazon search of “books on insomnia” yields over 2,990 titles. Some are scientific, some are holistic. I saw several coloring books that promise nighttime relaxation. There is even a Stephen King novel titled Insomnia, but I don’t think reading that before bedtime would be a very good idea.
I have read that as we get older, a full night’s sleep often becomes even more elusive so I’m probably stuck with my almost nightly habit. At least now my 3:00 am thoughts are, for the most part, not products of anxiety but, instead, focused on more enjoyable topics… unless I’m struggling to come up with an idea for my next blog post.