So how’re you sleeping, baby boomer? If you’re anything like a lot of us, not so hot. That’s what Ann Arbor, Michigan, boomer and longtime insomniac Lois Maharg blogs and teaches about, and now has written about in a full-length book: The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. We don’t know if her solution works for everybody, but we’re tired enough here at BoomerCafé to give it a try.
Friends who have trouble sleeping are skeptical. I, a lifelong insomniac and guerilla sleeper, improved my sleep by restricting my time inbed? Oh, come on!
But it’s a fact. I too had serious reservations about Sleep Restriction, a treatment recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. How was restricting my sleep going to help a person like me, who was looking for more sleep? It didn’t make sense. But as part of my research for a book about insomnia, I laid my doubts aside and took the plunge.
The first week’s task was to keep a sleep diary. I found I was sleeping about 4 hours and 45 minutes a night. I would begin by restricting my hours in bed to just that: to bed no earlier than 12:30 A.M., up at 5:15.
Night 1: In pajamas, I sat down in a puff chair surrounded by my accouterments of comfort: an ottoman for my feet, water, a stack of books. But with the approach of bedtime, I felt myself growing anxious. Setting a fixed bedtime had always created problems in the past. Why should tonight be different? The thought of fixing a wakeup time made me more anxious. Mornings were my catch-up time. If I stayed up late, I wouldn’t be ready to face the world at 5:15.
[Lois Maharg's book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep, is available at Amazon.com.]
But I persisted; the bed was off-limits until I felt sleepy, according to Sleep Restriction protocol, and that first night (more like, next morning) I was up until 3:30. So when the alarm rang at 5:15, it felt like the middle of the night. My limbs felt heavy and it took effort to haul myself out of bed. But I drank a cup of coffee and slogged through the day.
Nights 2 and 3: Things got worse. No matter that by 11 P.M. I was nodding over my books. No matter that, to stay awake until 12:30, I had to march around the house and then play the piano until the music blurred before my eyes. At 12:30, my designated bedtime, I was too aroused for sleep. I was up until 2 or 3.
What’s worse, in the mornings I felt achy and spent. Noises were too loud, the lights too bright. I plied myself with coffee but it had little effect. My brain was toast.
Should I call the whole thing off? I wondered. Or should I continue to force my body to do something it didn’t seem to want to do?
Night 4: At 12:30 that night I crashed. And the next instant someone was shaking my shoulder. I opened my eyes to my husband’s moonlit face and a clock that said 5:15. I’d slept a full 4 hours and 45 minutes. Shot cleanly through the goalposts without a moment’s wakefulness.
That was the beginning of the end of my nightly struggle with insomnia. I still had a ways to go: adding time in bed as sleep became more solid, tweaking bed and wake times, and modifying my bedtime routine. But there’s no doubt about it: staying the course eventually improved my sleep.
The 5 1/2 hours I get now is on the short side of normal, but it’s solid, restorative, and fairly dependable. I’ve never looked back.