|Art by the great Winsor McCay.|
The joy of a good night's sleep just can't be overstated. And somewhere around my 50th birthday, I lost the ability to get one. I went from being someone who could shut her eyes and not open them for eight hours to a person who now does a victory lap around the bed if I manage four hours of sleep in a single stretch. Worse, you can always tell how much sleep I got the night before by how grouchy I am and how much I forget the next day. Today, I drove past my freeway exit.
The unfortunate trademark of our middle years is that while we can fall asleep with little effort, we don't stay asleep. I'm guessing that more than a few of you are nodding your heads in agreement right now -- that, or nodding off.
But some heartening news just hit: Those senior moments -- where we forget whether or not we fed the dog or can't remember what day of the week it is -- may not be the early stages of Alzheimer's or dementia. They may simply just be what happens to us from lack of shut-eye. The study out of UC Berkeley found what any one of us could have told them: If you aren't sleeping well, you are forgetting more.
Not feeling sharp during the day is bad enough. But thinking that that memory loss could be something bigger frightens the bejesus out of me. So yes, I'm embracing these findings like Linus does his blanket.
But it all comes back to the original problem: Not sleeping well. What makes this problem so extraordinary is that short of taking addictive sleeping aides, nobody has come up with a solution for it. Melatonin? Yeah right. Over-the-counter sleeping aids tend to be a waste of my money. Exercise, no alcohol, avoid spicy foods and X, Y and Z? We've all heard the same advice a million times and guess what? Some things work a little; some things work for awhile; some things work for some people and nothing works the way it should except the heavy-duty stuff that kind of puts you into a temporary coma. The first time I took an Ambien, I remember thinking it should be administered by an anesthesiologist who monitored your vitals while you slept.
The idea of taking a pill every night to stay asleep isn't a lifestyle I particularly want to choose for myself. I believe that our bodies have the ability to self-heal if we just let them. But I've been waiting patiently for that to happen and I'm still staring at the ceiling from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. most nights. I swear the last calming herbal sleep-aid remedy I tried caused me stay awake longer.
There's one thing I know for sure: Whoever builds a better sleep aid is going to clean up. It will not be a white-noise machine, room-darkening shades, or earplugs to drown out spousal snoring. It will be a miracle, nothing less, and it will be embraced by a generation.
In the meantime, as I walk into the kitchen forgetting why I'm there or call my husband by my son's name, I find some small comfort knowing it's only because I'm tired.