I never had any trouble sleeping. In fact, my problem, as my husband would say, was staying awake. Indeed, I thought I was doing fine—until I found out that people my age still needed all of eight hours and that stolen naps scarcely count.
I never counted the hours I slept, but I’m almost sure they never came to eight. I had not slept that long since college years, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open after dinner.
Apparently, senior sleep is no longer just about resting; it’s for maintenance and serious repair, and eight hours of it is imperative. There must be exceptions, though.
I have an 81-year-old friend who sleeps only three hours, supplemented by three-minute naps during the day while watching TV or riding a car, and she seems fine.
Me—I feel I need all the help I can get, like a Fitbit watch. It does more than count steps and measure heartbeats and blood pressure, most importantly; it not only counts the hours of my sleep, but reports on its quality.
It works like a young mother watching over her baby as it sleeps, as long as I wear it all night long. It records at what point I fall asleep and how deeply, including how much time I spend in the three different levels of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM), the deepest stage, at which vivid dreams occur; light sleep, when you drift between being awake and asleep; and deep sleep, when repair and restoration happen—according to Fitbit, crucial for “physical renewal, hormonal regulation and growth.”
Naturally, the more time I spend at the dream stage and deep sleep, the more rested I feel the next morning. My sleep score is the sum of my scores at each stage. I once got a score of 82, which is good, but oftener I get between 72 and 75, which is fair and common.
To improve my score, I’m advised to exercise earlier in the day. A daily 30-minute walk should be good enough—anyway, I do an hour of aqua aerobics three times a week. My Fitbit reminds me every hour to take 250 steps; sitting is the new smoking, as they say. More important is a regular schedule for sleeping. For me, this is proving the hardest to follow.
I’ve had to make sure our bedroom is conducive to good sleep. I got us a prescribed high bed with a firm mattress. I used to be happy with our six foam pillows, a combination of soft and firm; now I’m dreaming of goose down filled pillows, like those in hotels and cruise ships.
We changed our old window-type air conditioner to a silent inverter, set at 24 degrees Celsius. We also got the proper overhead lighting, bright enough for dressing and putting on makeup, and soft lamp lights for reading in bed, the last thing we do before we beddy-bye. None of these would have worked as well had we not gotten rid of our second TV set from our bedroom.
I retire to the bedroom after the 9 o’clock news. Anyone who listens to the news will probably realize this alone could be the biggest stumbling block to a restful sleep.
There’s hardly any local news, much less any in-depth reporting, analysis and discussions among experts, the exposure to opposing views for a better understanding of what’s happening around. Many times, more questions are raised than answered. How can we even expect our people to make informed decisions? See how agitated I am already?
Done with my lukewarm bath and after-bath rituals, I try to hit the bed by 10:30. I set the alarm only when I have my aqua class. I tuck myself in, with an anthology, since my eyes can only read so long. These days it’s E. B. White’s collection of essays, letters and poems—“On Democracy”—written in another era, but relevant again.
White is the perfect writer to take to bed. He delights me with his elegant prose and humor, and his sentences and paragraphs make me smile in admiration for his clarity of thought and depth of conviction.
I once boycotted Woody Allen, books and films, after his betrayal of Mia Farrow by running off with their adopted daughter. I punished him until I read a more balanced article about it. Now, I’m rereading him.
Once, I took his “The Insanity Defense” to bed. Not that I didn’t expect it, but he still ambushed me with his nonsequitur humor. His sentences have land mines buried in the most unlikely places, and they explode in your face. But I just loved and laughed so much at his irreverence and craziness, he sends me into convulsions, but convulsions not necessarily unconducive to working up a sleep or bothersome to the spouse beside you—he loves him just as much, thus understands.
In fact, with White and Allen, I think I’m getting a good send-off to sleep.