The other day I was trying to remember the last time I had a good sleep. It must have been a weekend back in the mid-1960s before it became our job to clean the whole house on Saturday. Once that started, my sister and I would start early because we could only get permission to go somewhere if the chores were done.
It wasn’t after I had a baby, nor the years I worked frying donuts, heating the oil earlier than the hungry early birds were allowed in. It wasn’t during my years in school transportation when I was a dispatcher, route coordinator and middle-management supervisor. The first special education bus headed to the far reaches of Lenawee County at 5:30 a.m.
Maybe it was on a long-weekend at our Keuka Lake place in the 1990s; of course it came after driving almost all night to get there. Oh, maybe it was on the boat when it gently rocked while Gordy pretended to fish and I pretended to read but we were snoozing.
Why are people having so much trouble sleeping? Several friends have the same complaint. We’re tempted to think it’s just another sign of aging, but sleep deprivation is an issue for people of all ages, even children. One culprit, they say, is the proliferation of device screens.
In the days we watched Johnny Carson and the original Saturday Night Live then wondered why we tossed the rest of the night, we didn’t know the unrest could be related to screens. Today, however, research shows sleep issues can result from continuous use of devices late into the night, whether streaming and binge watching or scrolling through text messages. It messes with REM sleep researchers say. I don’t really know what that means but it has to do with sleep deep enough to keep you there a while.
I’m a kicker. I’m constantly monitoring what I eat later in the day in case it has caffeine or something that will mess with my body. Suggested remedies such as Sleepy tea and Melatonin work only briefly. If I doze, 10 minutes later I’m awake to stay, having to move my legs. I nightly kick my way across the Atlantic of my king-sized bed.
Prescription sleep aids haven’t appealed to me because of stories from others who feel lethargic in the morning or how they mess with medications such as I already take. Over the counter remedies have been recommended. Labels warn these will make me drowsy—just what I want. Excitability is another possibility. I have yet to take a medicine said to cause drowsiness that does the job. It always goes the other direction. That’s just my experience. If that happens after I have already kicked my way across the ocean of my bed, exacerbated kicking might just be my undoing.
A school bus driver friend once told me it was in the wee hours she got most of her housework done. She could never sleep more than four hours a night. I am just too lazy to do the same, though it surely wouldn’t hurt the state of my house. Sometimes I read. Occasionally I write but it makes little sense in light of day. I have, however, discovered the quiet of the late-nights are excellent times to commune with God, to pray and reflect. This, alone, can bring unexpected refreshment.
When I do activities that require a lot of walking, I have thought, “Yeah. I’ll sleep tonight for sure!” Unfortunately, it typically doesn’t work that way. One year at the Kingdom Bound festival at Darien Lake I was sharing a bed with my sister. We had walked miles that day and stayed up late in the amphitheater listening to music. But in the room, kick, kick, kick. I went to the lobby to read my way through the night.
At this year’s festival, I walked all day with five friends and repeated the concert process. I roomed with one friend but at least had my own bed. I took Melatonin, drank my sleepy tea, rubbed my legs with lotion—all the tricks. Finally, at 3 a.m., I slept. Four hours. Then we had to drive home.
I was still hoping my body’s rhythms would normalize when I walked again on Sunday for an event at the Chautauqua Institute, sure I would finally sleep, even with chronic leg pain being aggravated. I did. At 5:30 a.m. I had to get up three hours later.
I don’t think we ever catch up when we don’t sleep well. A short day nap might give the power to keep going through the day, but just like the rhythms of Daylight Savings Time affect us, sleep gets out of whack for varying reasons.
Maybe we’re just so overstimulated today. Maybe it’s the long summer days and shorter nights. Maybe sometime this winter I will hibernate for a few months, like the bears, storing up for the season to come. For now, I just need a nap.
(Contact contributor Deb Wuethrich at email@example.com.)