If there’s ever a thought to keep me awake at night, it’s worrying about not getting enough sleep. Apparently, people age 60 and over are more susceptible to insomnia, one possible reason being their internal circadian clocks are not ticking as efficiently as they once did. In fact, studies suggest that in middle age the average person loses 27 minutes of sleep per night with every passing decade. For me, that amounts to more than two episodes of Schitt’s Creek. Crikey.
The annoying thing is being dog-tired doesn’t automatically equate to immediate slumber. I’ve never found wafting lavender or sipping herbal tisanes useful. One thing that helps, however, is listening to voices at low volume, particularly soporific if I can’t understand the lingo. Enter Inspector Montalbano. Aah, that lilting Italian accent. I can rest easy, sure in the knowledge Salvo is solving the case. I’m sure the cast would be delighted to learn their creative endeavours are being used to cure my insomnia. Scusa commissario. Buona notte.
I’ve recently discovered myriad recordings of ambient sound and ‘white noise’ on YouTube; you can tune into ten hours’ of stormy weather, highway traffic in a tunnel, frogs and crickets or a babbling brook – the last one just makes me want to pee. There are also soundscapes of city life. As I live in London, this, I don’t need. It seems whenever I’m in a deliciously deep sleep, two blokes walking in whispering distance come down the road chatting so loudly, their conversation penetrates the double glazing. Then there’s the car driver whose music is so booming, the Mazda is basically a Marshall amp on wheels.
‘Sleep hygiene’ is the phrase now used in relation to factors that can be adjusted so you kip better. At first, I thought it referred to how often you washed your sheets. Got to say, though, freshly ironed bedlinen does help. That’s the best thing about a hotel room. Although I don’t understand the tea towel on the floor thing. Nor the one-size-fits-no-one slippers that turn your walk into a shuffle. They might as well say on the turndown card, ‘Enjoy your stay and please trip up with our compliments’.
I do think it can be beneficial to make the room completely dark. At long last, I’ve come to fully appreciate the finer points of the pelmet. Particularly since our council has replaced old-fashioned lampposts with illumination straight out of the opening credits of Sportsnight with Coleman (you have to be at least my age to get that reference – if you’re not, imagine throwing the switch on stadium floodlights to the crescendo of a catchy tune and you’ve got the picture). Trouble is now I can’t bear any light. Even a tiny red dot of a DVD player drives me to distraction.
Another problem I have is called ‘sleep maintenance insomnia’. If I do nod off quickly, I inevitably wake at 2am and within seconds, my google brain is responding to the burning question of the night, ‘What have I got to worry about?’. With my personal search engine whirring, it usually comes up with one answer. Plenty. It starts with something I mustn’t forget to do, so I face the dilemma of whether I concentrate on remembering, which wakes me up even more, or jotting it down. Emailing myself, however, is a disaster because I can’t ignore any unread messages. Digital devices have a lot to answer for. We’ve raised them to the status of bedside life support machines.
By this time, my worries are gaining traction, each scenario I ponder, more scary than the last. Come 2.45am, I’ve lived through more drama than the Christmas edition of EastEnders. Sometimes, though, I manage to distract myself by rehearsing what I could say in a forthcoming meeting should the other person become totally unreasonable, a turn of events that springs entirely from my imagination. Or even less helpful, I go over what I could have said in an argument that took place five years ago.
My final move is to bring gratitude into play. I tell myself if I were on a plane right now, feet wedged between the window and front seat, kneecap jammed against the armrest, teeth still tasting of red wine and coq au vin, I would kill for this glorious, spacious bed. But nope. I continue to be as picky as a pea-detecting princess - until it’s twenty minutes away from the alarm going off, by which time I’m finally out cold.
The other night, as a last resort, I googled sleepfoundation.org. Instantly, a pop-up window slid onto the screen. It was a competition to win a mattress – now that’s a great prize, providing of course, you haven’t got insomnia. They even show the number of entries as they ratchet up. I guess I could simply count those until I…