Guest writer Patricia Young was a Law Librarian for 20 years in Ottawa and Montreal, serving on the executive of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries in several positions including President. Pat then moved to Los Baños, Philippines. After volunteering for a few years, she discovered her true calling as a school librarian for grades Pre-K to 5. She and her husband retired to Vancouver in 2006.
My comment on Pam’s post about napping resulted in a flattering, though somewhat intimidating, suggestion to expand upon what I had written about my battles with chronic insomnia/sleeplessness. Thinking my tale of learning to cope might help a fellow sufferer, I agreed.
We have long been told that a good sleep, preferably seven to eight hours a night, is essential for good health. About 1990 I began to wake in the night and have difficulty returning to sleep. Back then missing even 30 minutes sleep seemed too long — particularly because I had to be on the road before 7 a.m. for an hour-long drive to my fairly stressful job in Montreal. Over the years this sleepless period expanded to as much as three hours several nights a week. According to SleepFoundation.org, insomnia lasting more than three months is considered chronic. I have completed my third decade!
SleepFoundation.org also cites studies indicating that from 30% to 48% of “older people” are affected.* Like many with this problem, I tried a variety of possible solutions, while avoiding drugs, but only added anxiety to my already too-long list of concerns. What was wrong with me? Why could I not sleep for a good solid eight hours as recommended?
Then, about five years ago, I tuned into CBC radio in the middle of an interview discussing circadian rhythms and changing sleep patterns. Until the industrial revolution wrought its changes, people would commonly go to bed when it became dark, sleep for about four hours (the first sleep), then awaken and do some quiet activity for an hour or two, finally returning to bed for another few hours (the second sleep). This segmented sleep was considered normal — perhaps a genetic trait — especially for peoples living where winter nights are long.
The observations started me thinking. By then I had retired and occasionally took an afternoon nap which, though helpful, contributed to my anxiety with feelings of guilt about napping. Eventually I concluded that what is right for some people might not be right for others, including me. I decided to cease the battle I had been fighting for 25 years.
Now when I wake in the night and cannot sleep, rather than lie there fretting and raising my anxiety levels as I try to fit into what is considered the norm, I rise after half an hour and read a book (any quiet activity will do) until I feel ready again for sleep. I call this my time of “restful wakefulness”. It generally works. I may still get only six hours sleep most nights, but the quality is better and, along with a 20-minute afternoon nap, gets me through the day quite nicely. Even more important, my anxiety about not sleeping “normally” is gone. As a bonus, I enjoy the pleasure of an hour or so of uninterrupted, guilt-free reading.
* When writing this article, I attempted to track down that CBC interview of years ago. Without success. Unsurprisingly, my attempt led to numerous studies of sleep patterns (biphasic, polyphasic and so on) by qualified professionals. Some suggest that waking up after a few hours of sleep may not be a disorder, as modern humans seem to think, but rather a return to a more natural pattern of segmented sleep. Accepting this premise can lessen distress and make falling back asleep easier for many. It certainly has for me. •