Sleeping On It


By Neil Offen

We wake up in the morning and talk about how we couldn’t sleep during the night.

My wife notes that she woke at 1:45, 3:19 and for good at 6:53. Competitive as always, I counter with taking 43 minutes to fall asleep, waking up at 2:57 and then waking for good — or rather for worse — at 5:19. I am the winner, or rather the loser.

Not sleeping well, it turns out, is a classic sign of aging, right up there with complaining.

Yes, it’s true that as we get older we don’t need as much sleep as before. While our younger selves generally required the recommended eight hours or more, now we can get by on six or even five because we know we can spend most of the rest of the day sprawled out on the couch snoring.

Still, many of us don’t even get that minimum amount of sleep because when we go to bed we’re worrying — mostly about not waking up at all after we go to bed. There’s also too much going on in our heads as we’re concerned about an array of issues — global climate change, the rise of fascism, that new flutter in our chest, the stiffness in our back and whether we turned off the oven.

Also, technically speaking, as we age the master clock in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, regulates our sleep cycles, or circadian rhythms. As the nucleus gets creaky and has difficulty concentrating on the paragraph it’s reading, our circadian rhythms get out of whack.

If we’re unable to find any whack, which happens when you get older because you can’t remember where you’ve put anything, our bodies begin to produce lower levels of growth hormone, so we are likely to experience a decrease in slow wave or deep sleep, which is an especially refreshing part of the sleep cycle and was voted No. 1 sleep cycle in an AARP survey. When this happens we produce less melatonin, meaning we’ll often experience more fragmented sleep and wake up more often during the night because we need to drive to the 24-hour Walgreens to pick up a case of melatonin.

Or maybe we just have to go to the bathroom a lot more. Who knows?

All these problems can be exacerbated by certain medicines we now take, which are only rarely included in our health plan’s formulary, for certain medical problems we now have, such as the inability to read teeny white movie subtitles that are superimposed on a white background.

Whatever the reasons, we know that not getting enough sleep can be dangerous. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia and staying awake at night worrying about chronic sleep deprivation. It can lead to suddenly falling asleep while talking to your financial adviser. It can even lead to purchasing a high-fee, low-return annuity during a bear market.

It’s important therefore to address the root cause of sleepless nights and to improve our sleep hygiene if we want to live longer and better or at least not fall asleep during the fourth hour of the Oscars broadcast.

Coming next: What is good sleep hygiene? Spoiler: It doesn’t mean washing your hands and brushing your teeth before you go to sleep, although, frankly, that’s really not a bad idea at all.

Carrboro resident Neil Offen has written humor pieces for a number of different publications, in a number of different countries. His column will appear twice monthly in The Local Reporter.

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1 Comment on "Sleeping On It"

  1. Particularly loved, “deep sleep, which is an especially refreshing part of the sleep cycle and was voted No. 1 sleep cycle in an AARP survey.”

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