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Insomnia: The Bane of Middle and Other Ages
by Marjorie Dorfman

Do you find yourself tossing and turning instead of sleeping during the night? Do you talk back to the sheep that keep jumping before your weary eyes? Are you tired of being tired? Well, read on. Maybe you'll find some help. Or at least a laugh to help you through.

To sleep, perchance to dream. No, to sleep! Forget about the dream!
If I should die before I sleep, I pray for the wisdom to know the difference.     – 
The Dorfman Archives

I feel totally qualified to discuss insomnia, as I am often one of its many sufferers. This affliction has brought me no fame (and even less sleep), but at least in my waking hours I know my subject matter well. Still, the questions do linger, that is, if one can stay awake long enough to answer them! For one thing, why can’t insomnia travel uptown, downtown or even next door? Why does it always come to my house, my bed and my body? How many sheep must one man count before he accepts the fact that he cannot sleep? And how many times must one man (or woman) awaken during the night before he or she can see there is a real problem? The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind. It lies, hopefully, somewhere below in this impromptu and completely unorthodox treatise.

To understand the problem, it is necessary to learn its underlying causes. I’m not sure if this statement came from the mouth of Albert Einstein or good old Mister Tooth Decay, but it does seem an appropriate place to begin. Insomnia is defined as the perception or complaint of inadequate sleep because of the following: difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep, waking up too early in the morning or unrefreshing slumber. Someone once said that insomnia is caused by the difficulties in coping with life’s daily stresses and strains. Deep, n’est ce pas? Perhaps so, but the number of hours of sleep a person gets or how long it takes to fall asleep is not considered part of its dozing perimeters.

Insomnia can be classified as transient (short term), intermittent (on and off), and chronic (constant). Lasting from a single night to a few weeks, the condition is considered transient. If episodes occur from time to time, it is said to be intermittent. Chronic insomnia occurs on most nights and lasts a month or more. This type is more complex and often results from a combination of factors, including underlying physical and mental disorders. Behavioral factors can also contribute, such as the misuse of caffeine, alcohol, or other substances. Certain conditions seem to make individuals more prone to experience insomnia. These include those being unfortunate enough to have lived past the age of sixty, being female (fortunate or unfortunate) and a history of depression (fortunate, unfortunate, male or female).

My course of action will, for confusion’s sake, divide the waking battlefield into two major fronts; going back to sleep or waking up to face the music. All choices must be weighed carefully before you even get into bed. This strategy is meant to fool your mind into thinking that you really do want to sleep through the night. One interesting "back to sleep" option includes sleeping with your head facing north. If you’re anything like me, this is no help at all, as I don’t know north from south except in terms of who won the Civil War. If you are too tired to figure it out, sleep facing any direction. Believe it or not, it is said that wiggling your toes helps to reduce body tension. Try it. What can you lose? The worst that could happen is that at least your toes will get some sleep, even if you don’t. Counting sheep also falls somewhere in here. Don’t you ever wonder who the sheep count (or is it whom?) when they want to get some shut-eye? Do they add up those who jump fences before their weary eyes or are they content to read the words of Oscar Levant as found in his timeless best seller, Confessions of An Insomniac?

The following alternatives may give you the illusion of control over the situation. Upon awakening, immediately arouse your pet and /or pets and spouse and/or spouses and make them play with you. You pay rent. You have the right. If you live alone, play with yourself. This may help to pass time, but it will not aid you in returning to sleep. You must also completely accept the fact that you are awake. To toss and turn is a waste of time and energy. Make a pot of coffee instead. Also, make the bed as soon as you get up, even if other people are still sleeping in it. This is not the time to be considerate and if you remain in bed, I promise that you will toss and turn for hours, only to fall into the deepest slumber imaginable ten minutes before you have to awaken. You will not only be tireder than you were before you went to sleep, but also tireder than you ever dreamed possible. Stay awake if you have to prop your eyes open with toothpicks! Do not consider passing time by calling your friends unless there is someone in your entourage whom you do not like. In that case, why not give them a call? This will not help you get any rest, but at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that someone you can’t stand is awake now too and by your own hand as well!

Try to make constructive use of this new-found time. Perhaps there is an old movie you’ve always wanted to see somewhere on television? Or, (and this is not advised because it might curtail the problem), try to understand what it was that awakened you. A dream about the problem? A problem about the dream? Self-analysis can be helpful in these wee hours, as everything is less painful to contemplate when one is semi-conscious. Consider every mistake you have made over the course of your entire life (Include recipes that went wrong and sales items that didn’t fit or work when you got them home.) In this way, the next day is completely set up for a host of negative disasters and thus, another sleepless night.

All kidding aside, there is some hope at the end of the sleepless tunnel. With relaxation therapy, you can learn specific and effective procedures that can reduce or eliminate anxiety and body tension. As a result, your mind can finally stop racing, muscles can relax and restful sleep can occur. It usually takes much practice, however, to learn these techniques and to achieve effective relaxation. Sleep restriction can also help because many people spend too much time in bed unsuccessfully trying to sleep. If you have a friend who can’t sleep, engage him or her in the process. Have him or her wake you up if you go over the allotted time for sleep on any given night. Sleep time is gradually increased until a more normal night’s rest is achieved. Consider reconditioning. This means going back in your brain to recondition the association of the bed with bedtime and sleep. This also means putting those clothes and Christmas ornaments back in the closet and not using the bed for any activities other than sleep and sex. Go to bed only when sleepy even if you have to stay up until dawn to get there. Avoid naps and go to bed at the same time each night.

Despite all of the above, there is really no cure for insomnia. At best, you can only hope to reduce the symptoms that cause it. However, habits and life style changes are certainly a step in the right direction. Suicide is not recommended in most instances, although it is a sure-fire way to guarantee that concern for waking in the middle of the night will disappear forever. Changing your vocation to accommodate the malady might work. Consider renting yourself out as a wake-up service and make a few extra bucks in the process. This will also aid in reducing hostility, as you will be forcing your own problem onto others. I have no other answers or suggestions. I have temporarily alleviated my own insomnia by writing this article. You find your own way. Now I’m tired. Good night!


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