When Mom, 91, sees her doctor, I often join the conversation in the examining room. Today, it was a good thing I did.
Mom mentioned she was sleeping less, and asked the nurse about it. The nurse hesitated, then reassured her that older people need less sleep.
Does anybody still believe this?
For a medical professional to be this ill-informed pissed me off. The nurse hesitated before answering, as if she didn’t really know, and then spewed an old trope. My mom nodded as if resigned.
I jumped in. “Actually, older people need just as much sleep as anybody else–seven to eight hours a night–but it’s harder to get as you age.”
I realized the nurse might be offended that I contradicted her, but I don’t give a crap. To me, it reflects the ubiquitous ageism in all our institutions. This mistaken belief about elders and sleep was disproven a long time ago.
And another thing: I was at least twenty years older than the nurse, and I felt empowered by my gray hair and life experience. A nice little side-benefit of aging.
Interestingly, older people sleep less because certain sleep-inducing neurons in your brain die off. Oh, I know. Great, right? Here’s the article if you want to read more.
Lately I’ve had trouble getting enough sleep because the second I wake up, usually at around 4 a.m., I can’t stop thinking about all I have to / want to do. Part of this is wonderful–it’s nice to be excited about your life. Part of it is being overextended commitment-wise. I would like to be less busy, but that’s a continuing challenge with which I grapple. Maybe one day I’ll be mature enough to say ‘no’.
Until then, I have certain strategies for getting as much sleep as possible: I exercise (could do more) and meditate (ditto); I don’t look at a computer screen or challenge my brain after 7 p.m.; and I go to bed as early as possible, since I’ll pop awake early no matter what. I suspect my long-term solution will be to have less on my plate.
How about you? Are you getting enough sleep? Have you found a good tactic for ensuring sleep?