The Twilight Zone

The time between night and day, when the world outside is quiet but your head keeps playing sounds that you just can’t seem to shut down. 

Like a broken record your thoughts twist and turn. You have counted sheep backwards and forwards, had a cup of hot cocoa, done everything you can think of and still you just can’t seem to sleep. 

We have touched lightly on this in previous issues, yet this subject is so much more than a few lines in a paragraph. 

Did you know that a study done before Covid struck, shows that women are more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation than men? 

  • 27.5% of women have trouble falling asleep every single night 
  • This number falls to 18.5% of men 

Age may be a factor in our sleeping patterns but the truth is that women of all ages will suffer from this ailment at, at least once in their lives.   Between the ages of 35-55 (the years which I call the in- between stage, when you are not considered old or very young) – the age when most hormonal changes are occurring in our bodies – this age seems to experience insomnia more frequently. 

It’s a subtle thing that creeps up on you when you least expect it. You may find yourself going to sleep later than usual, putting it down to having things to finish off at home. You may have teenagers who are old enough to go to sleep later, leaving you little time to unwind.  

But, however the rot sets in, once it has started it’s hard to stop.   

You go to bed at around 2am, the witching hour, and your mind starts thinking of all the things you need to do, or the things you haven’t yet done.  

‘Did I turn off the kitchen light? Do I need to go check if I turned off the light? Actually, I may have already turned it off’. A few minutes later you are in the kitchen; you turn on the light which you had previously turned off and make yourself a cup of tea, as you are up already. Whilst the water is boiling you think ‘I will just peel the veg for tomorrow’s dinner’, as I said – ‘you are on a roll’. 

As the days go by you find yourself in this never-never land of lying in bed thinking about everything and anything. ‘How many loaves of bread do I need to buy from the grocery?’ etc. 

As this cycle continues a tiredness takes over your body, your day is affected, your moods are unpredictable and your family is on edge every time they speak to you; they feel as if they are walking on eggshells.  You yourself know what’s happening, but you just don’t know how to dig yourself out of the hole that you have fallen into. 

To me the next stage is the hardest. You lay down on your bed, and immediately start saying ‘I can’t fall asleep’. When your eyes do shut and you are finally falling asleep, your brain says ‘NO you can’t go to sleep.’ 

At this point you are trying every cure you can think of, a warm bath, lights off, whale sounds, meditation…. The truth is that most sufferers of sleep deprivation are so exhausted by this time that they would do anything. 

How Much Sleep does one really need to function normally? 

The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for nightly sleep are broken down into nine age groups. 

 Age RangeRecommended Hours of Sleep
Newborn0-3 months old14-17 hours
Infant4-11 months old12-15 hours
Toddler1-2 years old11-14 hours
Preschool3-5 years old10-13 hours
School-age6-13 years old9-11 hours
Teen14-17 years old8-10 hours
Young Adult18-25 years old7-9 hours
Adult26-64 years old7-9 hours
Older Adult65 or more years old7-8 hours

In each group, the guidelines present a recommended range of nightly sleep duration for healthy individuals. In some cases, sleeping an hour more or less than the general range may be acceptable, based on a person’s circumstances. 
For that reason, the guidelines list a range of hours for each age group. The recommendations also acknowledge that, for some people with unique circumstances, there’s some wiggle room on either side of the range for “acceptable,” though still not optimal, amount of sleep. 

Deciding how much sleep you need means considering your overall health, daily activities, and typical sleep patterns. Some questions that will help you assess your individual sleep needs include: 

        Are you productive, healthy, and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or have you noticed that you require more hours of sleep to get into high gear? 

        Do you have coexisting health issues? Are you at a higher risk for any disease? 

        Do you have a high level of daily energy expenditure? Do you frequently play sports or work in a labour-intensive job? 

        Do your daily activities require alertness to do them safely? Do you drive every day and do you ever feel sleepy during the drive? 

        Are you experiencing or do you have a history of sleeping problems? 

        Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day? 

        When you have an open schedule, do you sleep more than you do on a typical workday?

Start with the National Sleep Foundation recommendations and then use your answers to these questions to home in on your optimal amount of sleep.

Improving your sleep hygiene, which includes your bedroom setting and sleep-related habits, is the first step to get better rest. Examples of sleep hygiene improvements include: 

  • Sticking to the same sleep schedule every day, even on weekends.
  • Practicing a relaxing pre-bed routine to make it easier to fall asleep quickly.
  • Choosing a mattress that is supportive and comfortable and fitting it out with quality pillows and bedding.
  • Minimising potential disruptions from light and sound while optimising your bedroom temperature and aroma.
  • Disconnecting from electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops for a half-hour or more before bed.
  • Carefully monitoring your intake of caffeine by trying to have your last cup of coffee at lunchtime.
  • Another step is to use your bedroom as a sleeping place only to be used at night. If you feel you need to rest during the daytime hours, do so on a sofa. This will establish your bedroom as a sleeping area.
  • Instead of lying in bed making lists, have a pen and paper near you to write down the thoughts going around your mind. If all this fails the best course of action is to leave your room, do something to distract yourself from the thought of sleep, like reading a book, as long as it’s not something that will activate your mind when it needs relaxing. Only when you feel that your eyes are closing, go back to bed again.   

Reading all this is only tackling a quarter of the sleeping issue. If you have tried all the traditional ways of catching more than 40 winks, and you are still having a hard time with sleeping, or you do fall asleep easily, and find that you wake up suddenly, feeling like you need to catch your breath – see your medical practitioner. There are ways to help you in these circumstances that are easy for you to do, and at the same time can be life-savers. 

In next month’s installment on sleep issues, I will discuss an ailment called Sleep Apnea and what you can do to get the help you need. 

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