Sleeping all the way through the night and then waking feeling rested is becoming a rarity. There are small things that I could do to help myself, but as often as not there seems to be no obvious reason why I am losing my ability to sleep well. It could be my age or my dietary habits, it could be disturbances from other family members or concerns running through my head. Whatever the reason, I am awake in the wee small hours too often. I cannot remember when I last enjoyed the recommended eight hours of sleep we are told that we require each night to maintain good health.
Sleep deprivation is one of the hardest challenges that new parents must face. Despite it being a common issue, there is rarely a great deal of sympathy from those who have been through it before. It is regarded as inevitable, just something to be got through. There is an ‘I coped and so must you’ attitude that can leave the new parent, already exhausted and unable to think clearly, feeling that they are failing if they do not carry on with some semblance of normality however wretched they feel. Sleep deprivation is a recognised method of torture yet those who suffer from it are expected to put up and shut up. It can exacerbate one’s susceptibility to a wide range of debilitating illnesses yet society will not generally take seriously the way a sufferer truly feels.
My elderly mother has complained of insomnia for many years. She has followed numerous suggestions in her quest for a good night’s sleep but still finds herself wide awake in the small hours of the morning unable to attain the rest she craves. As I grow older I hear many tales of woe from friends who are suffering from this complaint. It is so frustrating to lie in bed feeling tired yet be unable to sleep. Lifestyle choices, medication and stress have all been suggested as causes but these offer no real solution other than to make us feel that an inability to provide our bodies with healthful rest is somehow our fault. Whilst recognising that there is much that can be done to alleviate the problem, these factors do not always explain the whole story.
I am not an expert in anthropology but find it interesting when modern habits can be recognised in studies of our ancestors. Looking back at the role of the elderly in tribes I note that they were often tasked with night time guard duties. Their natural sleep patterns enabled them to sleep early then keep watch through the rest of the night. Napping periodically in the day allowed them to attain the rest they needed. I have never been able to sleep during the day, even when my children were babies, and can feel quite annoyed when my husband dozes off on the sofa after a big lunch at the weekend. Perhaps I should be more accepting of what may be a natural requirement as he ages. Perhaps I should be listening to my body and simply allowing myself a time of wakefulness at what seems like a most antisocial hour of the morning.
There are many avenues that I can explore in an attempt to combat my current sleep problems and I am hopeful that I can help myself to feel better by making some sensible choices to attain a few good nights of sleep. I suspect though that this issue is not one that is going to go away completely. Just as my eyesight is deteriorating and my joints ache for longer after exercise, I suspect that I will be more prone to night time wakefulness as I grow older. I am not ready to give in to the afternoon nap though. Not yet.