To Sleep, Perchance to Wake at 3 am – Ay, There’s The Rub
Originally posted on April 1, 2017
Apologies to Hamlet. But really, I think Hamlet was talking about doing himself in, or in his words, “shuffled off this mortal coil”.
Me, I just want to sleep through the night.
When we get older our sleep patterns change, not usually for the better. My sleep patterns currently suck.
Is it normal to wake at 3 am just so I can fall asleep reading, or watching TV, or listening to my wife talk about her day at 8 pm? So I turned on my Android tablet and said to it, “Okay Google, Why do we have sleep problems when we get older?”
And to paraphrase Google:
Changes to sleep patterns are part of the normal aging process.
(Well that sucks.)
67% of people over 55 complain of frequent sleep problems. When we get older we tend to produce less melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep.
(Nothing seems to work as well as it used to.)
It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline as we get older.
(I fell asleep right in the middle of the latest Star Wars movie; in the middle of a battle scene.)
Okay Google, so tell me something I didn’t know.
Falling asleep in the early evening and getting up in the AM is referred to as “Advanced sleep phase syndrome” (ASPS).
So now that I can put a name to it, everything will be fine – NOT!
Making Lemonade, literally
Not being able to sleep past 4 am is being given a pretty sour lemon. After weeks of just lying in bed in the pre-dawn I decided to give up trying to get back to sleep and I just got up. It turns out that is not such a bad thing after all, especially in the hot season.
I now get up when I wake up. I do some yoga, lift a few weights, do some Internet surfing, and write this post. After a few hours the sun comes up and I go out into the garden. My assignments are to rake the leaves and lift bags of manure, something I can really use my costly education for. At this time in the morning it is nice and cool.
I also check out our fruit trees, especially the lemon grove. I pick whatever is ripe. By 8:30 am, I’ve been up for about 4 hours by now, the sun starts getting hot and I’m done for the day, except for a nice cold lemonade from the lemons I picked earlier.
I recently found a small solution to this sleep problem. A good Thai friend had just bought a new house right on the Ping River here in Chiang Mai. As most Thais will do when they move into a new house they had a Buddhist ceremony to bless the house and to call for happiness and prosperity for the new occupants.
The ceremony consisted of a retelling of the occupant’s life history and then the nine monks got down to chanting. As they began to chant all the guests placed their hands together in front of them. I did the same and also closed my eyes. About 20 minutes later the chanting was finished, and I awoke from the best and most refreshing sleep I had had in the last few weeks. If this Advanced sleep phase syndrome doesn’t get better I just might make visiting a house warming ceremony a regular thing.
Those of you who have been with me since the beginning of time, or at least since I was writing the “Retiring Attitude” column for the Chiang Mai City Life magazine, might remember that I touched on the topic of sleep once before. It was so nice to live in a world before my advanced sleep phase syndrome became a part of my life. Here is the article, later reprinted in my eBook Retired Life in Thailand.
“Sir, if you’ll not be needing me, I’ll close down for a while.” With that, the droid C3PO (Star Wars IV, A New Hope) shuts down and re-energizes himself. That always intrigued me. I wondered if I could do the same thing. Then I learned about Power Napping.
Thailand, especially on a stifling hot season afternoon, can be a rather enervating place. There is a Thai word “chee-wit-chee-wa” meaning animated and lively. Well, a hot Thai afternoon will suck the “chee-wit-chee-wa” right out of you. But a power nap might just be the medicine that will get it back.
There are lots of versions of power napping around the world. Spain and the Latin American countries have their siestas, the Japanese have the inemuri and the sleep scientists have what they call polyphasic sleep. They all mean basically the same thing, crashing for a short period in the middle of the day. I have been watching the construction workers in my compound. Right after lunch each person heads for someplace shady; under a tree, next to a wall, under a truck. And they all take part in “polyphasic sleep”. They simply close down for an hour. I’ve learned to do the same thing.
A power nap is not a catnap. A catnap is when you are sitting in your chair and doze off for a few minutes. A real power nap involves a complete break from the hustle and bustle of your daily life. It is a time to be completely relaxed, just as you would in your own bed. The rest you get from power napping is akin to the calm feeling one gets after a meditation session.
Studies have shown that for experienced nappers, power naps are as good as a night of sleep on revitalizing memory, relieving fatigue, and boosting energy. Remember when you were a kid in primary school and you always had “nap time”. There was a good reason for that when you were little and there is a good reason for it now. It is probably unnatural to force yourself to stay awake for 16 straight hours. Watch your dog or cat and see how long they stay awake.
Lately, even big corporations see the value in having their employees take short naps during the day. Some companies are now providing special rooms with low lighting and cots for sleeping. They know that a revitalize employee is a more productive one.
So, how does one power nap? Power napping is trainable. The main thing is to find a place to completely relax, where you can rest, or sleep, for at least 10 to 30 minutes. Here is what I do. I get out of my regular clothes, get into the clothes I use for sleeping at night, I draw the shades, and then I get into bed. I usually fall asleep right away and something in me wakes me after just about 20 minutes (if I sleep longer I sometimes feel groggy). Then I get up, wash my face, brush my teeth, and I am ready for the rest of the day.
Besides feeling refreshed and being much more alert and productive later in the day, I don‟t fall asleep in front of the TV at night anymore. It sounds contradictory but a good nap helps you to stay awake. Like meditation, power napping allows you to release all the gunk cluttering up your mind. It is sort of like rebooting a computer that has too much stored in its RAM that makes it start to slow down.
There is another reason why I think we should nap? To use another metaphor, I like to think our bodies are like automobiles. When we are awake we are putting miles on the odometer. Taking a nap is like putting the engine in neutral. If our engine has a fixed limit in the number of miles we can run then napping, or putting our engines in neutral, will make our engines last longer.
Well, I feel that old “chee-wit-chee-wa” fading a bit. I‟ll get back to work after naptime. Sweet dreams.