A boomer and longtime insomniac finds a way to better sleep

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!

Sleep expert Lois Maharg.

Long suffering insomniac, sleep expert and writer Lois Maharg.

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.

Writer Lois Maharg.

Writer Lois Maharg.

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.

Lois Maharg is online.

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  1. Lois Maharg’s accounting of Sleep Restriction is what ‘regular folks’ need to hear about sleep study. I hope Boomer Cafe carries more articles by Maharg.

  2. Thanks Ms. Maharg! I plan to try your advise – hopefully during a week when I don’t need much of a brain to function – glad to hear you persevered & it was worth it on the other side!
    I also plan to forward your article to some of my other sleepless friends – not to mention, buy your book! Sweet Dreams!

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