Column: Sleepless in Vancouver

If you’re one of the sufferers, you know that insomnia plagues a huge number of seniors. If I wasn’t so tired, I’d look up the statistics for you. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night. I’m pretty sure it was when Stephen Harper was prime minister, though.

Those stats we’ve all heard about that say seniors need seven to nine hours of sleep per night.…all I can ask is: In which lifetime? According to one study I read, a full third of seniors aged 65-79 report fewer than the recommended seven hours. In many cases, a lot fewer. I do believe what they say about the adverse effects of chronic sleeplessness: that it affects judgement, memory and concentration, mood, and puts you at increased risk for a number of serious medical conditions. In short, sleeplessness is no laughing matter.

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Last night when I finally put down my book at 10:45 p.m., blurry-eyed from tiredness, I was sure I’d be making Zs within minutes. Instead, I was awake the entire night. Let me repeat that: the ENTIRE night. At about 2:30 a.m. I got up and took half a Gravol, hoping it would make me drowsy. Not a chance. At 4 a.m. I got up and made a cup of Sleepytime tea and started reading again. Nada. At 5:15 a.m. I slipped back into bed and hoped for the best. I got bubkas.

Ever wonder what you should do when you can’t fall asleep? I usually toss and turn all night hoping I’ll bore myself to sleep. Sometimes I ponder getting up and doing chores that otherwise remain on the back burner. Then I think…maybe I should clean the back burner. Or maybe declutter the hall closet. Except I might wake Harvey. Last night at 3 a.m. he woke up to go to the bathroom (another choice benefit of being a senior; you know what I’m talking about) so I angrily announced that I hadn’t yet fallen asleep. If I can’t sleep, why should anybody else?

I finally stumbled out of bed at around 8 a.m. only to find that our internet was down. I got in the shower and within 30 seconds, the water turned ice cold. I made the requisite adjustments and the water turned scalding hot. All the while the air was turning blue from my vigorous swearing. I’m sure the neighbors thought there was a domestic dispute going on, what with all the loud cursing. I think I may have invented a few new cuss words. I can be very creative.

Clearly, the world was conspiring against me. When I calmed down and dried off, I realized that the warnings they give about functioning on no sleep are true: under no circumstances should you operate heavy machinery (like a Nespresso, forklift, or washer and dryer). Garbage disposals are iffy, too. Exhausted and cranky, I settled in for a quiet, unproductive day of reading, eating and thinking about sleep.

When you’re awake in the middle of the night, struggling to grab some shut-eye, consider these words from a humorous insomniac: “Without sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds.” Sweet dreams.

Shelley Civkin, the retired “Face of Richmond,” was a Librarian & Communications Officer at Richmond Public Library for nearly 30 years, and author of a weekly book review column for 17 years. 

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