I read that sleep is one of the many casualties of the pandemic. It’s no wonder. Anxiety can keep us awake and there’s a lot to be anxious about right now, not the least of which is being confined to quarters with people we love, but don’t necessarily like as much as we used to.
I’m no relationship expert, but I do know a thing or two about sleeping, or rather about not sleeping. I’m an insomniac which medical dictionaries define as someone who believes eternal rest really does sound like heaven.
I inherited sleep problems from my father. (Yes, I know. Some people inherit money.) My dad had a tendency to wake up for the day about the time your average night owl was going to bed. But he didn’t take his sleep problems lying down. He figured that as long as he was awake, he might as well do something. And it was usually something loud — like rototilling by moonlight.
Back then, his early rising was a nightmare to me, but now I’m sympathetic. These days I’m the one waking up in the middle of the night feeling like it’s time to start the day. Lucky for my neighbors, I don’t have a rototiller.
Unlike my dad, I don’t feel any more like being productive in the middle of the night than I do in the middle of the day. I love mornings though. I’d just like them to start at a reasonable hour.
So I’ve been studying insomnia since long before the pandemic. And as a public service, I’m going to share with you a few things I’ve learned. I guarantee that by the end of this discussion, you’ll be ready to doze off — just like you are when you read my other columns.
First, we all have what is called a circadian rhythm. It’s a precious thing, and not just because it’s the only rhythm some of us have. It’s our internal clock, regulating our sleep-wake cycle. For many people, the pandemic has disrupted work, meal and sleep schedules. And you know what happens when you mess with a clock. It gets ticked off. Sorry.
To keep your clock ticking properly, sleep experts say you should go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, pandemic or not. Yes that might make you seem like a boring person, but no more so than dozing off during supper does.
Secondly, let there be light — during the day. Not so much at night. Light interferes with our bodies’ production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. My husband could sleep in broad daylight at a shooting range. But he installed blackout curtains in the bedroom for me because he thinks I’m easier to be around if I’ve slept. He’s right. But I think everybody’s easier to be around if I’ve slept.
Blackout curtains are useless if I stay up late staring at my computer. Electronic devices emit blue light that tells the brain to stop producing melatonin. As you know, they emit plenty of other things that interfere with sleep too, for example, the nightly news.
I downloaded a free app that adapts the light coming from my computer screen. Now my screen is bright during the day, and towards evening it turns a golden tone which the app makers calls “warm at sunset with a candle before bed.” And I don’t have to worry about forgetting to blow it out when I go to sleep.
Have these tricks worked? Sometimes. And when they don’t, I take comfort in the fact that many sleep experts say a short nap early in the afternoon is fine for the body clock. Frankly I wouldn’t trust their judgment if they said otherwise. If Mother Nature didn’t intend us to nap, she wouldn’t have made us so sleepy in the afternoon.
Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books including “Alexa’s a Spy and Other Things to Be Ticked off About, Humorous Essays on the Hassles of Our Time.” Contact [email protected]