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Posted: January 7, 2011 12:00 a.m.

Morgan: Sleepless, but in good company

It’s a good thing I’m writing this column on deadline after a rare good night’s sleep. You would have found me in a groggy state and bad mood otherwise.

Research shows that too many of us get far less than the prescribed amount of sleep — that’s seven to eight hours — in order to be healthy.

It contributes to all sorts of health issues, they’ve found, and, in my opinion, it probably accounts for the angry, irritable populace we have become.

The Mayo Clinic says that one-third of adults have experienced insomnia at some point, and that 10-15 percent of us deals with it long-term.

I think those figures understate the problem, if anecdotal research means anything.

Would that by edict everybody could be ordered to bed for an adequate amount of sleep, but going to bed for too many of us doesn’t hold promise for sleep.

Insomnia is what it’s called: "the chronic inability to fall asleep or stay asleep for an adequate amount of time."

Do you know anyone who sleeps well regularly? Well, I know of only one, my 92-year-old mother who’s never missed a full night’s sleep in her life. She sleeps long and peacefully. I didn’t get those genes.

Sleeplessness is a regular subject of conversation among my friends, all women at mid-life.

But not even my husband escapes the torture of insomnia. Many times, 2 a.m. finds him reading or watching television in the den or working at his computer. Even that doesn’t mean he gets back to sleep.

A friend who never — not ever — sleeps straight through the night — she calls it "pathetic" — is known as a speed reader for the number of books she consumes in a month’s time. Some time every night, she’s up reading in the den or by night light in the bedroom. Need a good book suggestion? She’s got them in droves.

Another friend tells her story: "I don’t know a single person who regularly gets a good night’s sleep.

"Why? Hormones, noise, worries, inability to shut the brain off, ruminating over the smallest — why are those avocados black on the inside? — to the biggest — how would I improve health care?

"I find that when I do finally fall asleep, I’ll wake up a few hours later and pick up thinking about whatever it was I was thinking of before. That makes it near impossible to go back to sleep.

"When I awake in the middle of the night, I generally just stay in bed and hope to fall asleep again. The question arises when it is 4 a.m. I then have to decide whether to get up and start the day or spend hours trying to go back to sleep and lose the day."

I wonder if June Cleaver had trouble sleeping.

"One thing I know is that if I happen to get a good night’s sleep one night, I can be sure I won’t get another the next night.

"Lack of sleep may also be due to the absence of complete darkness or perhaps the electric energy put out by our world of high technology.

"Whatever it is, it can’t be cured by a glass of warm milk anymore."

Oh, I’ve tried all those "natural" remedies, believe me: Warm milk with nutmeg. A lemon-flavored magnesium powder mixed in warm water taken before bedtime. A hot bath. The herb valerian. Tryptophan. Melatonin. Aromatherapy with English lavender. Cutting out caffeine. Visualizing a peaceful scene hoping to induce restfulness.

New research suggests that cherry juice consumed twice a day might help.

Avoiding sweets, I’ve also read, is recommended to prevent a rise in blood sugar levels in the night that might lead to wakefulness.

And then there are prescription sleep medications, but because they are not recommended as a long-term solution, they aren’t really an answer to chronic insomnia.

What’s a girl to do?

I, too, wrestle with whether to get up in the night to finish uncompleted tasks or read the book club book before the meeting Monday.

Most times, I elect to stay in bed, believing it’s best at least to give the physical body some rest, even if the mind is barreling along at warp speed.

If I can manage to still the "monkey talk" — mindless, trivial ruminations – it turns out that wakefulness in the dark of night can be the best time for problem-solving and prayer, when there’s no phone or e-mail or doorbell or deadline to distract.

Dreams are supposedly one way the spirit works out solutions and situations in your life, but if you’re not sleeping, you’re not dreaming.

Michael Jackson, as we all now know, was a chronic insomniac whose constant search for sleep through chemical inducement ultimately led to his untimely death.

Teen stars Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber claim to be sufferers, as well, and long before those two, Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant were known insomniacs.

Maybe sleeplessness induced Marilyn to overdose.

Judy Garland, in the making of "The Wizard of Oz," was fed sleeping pills in order to get sleep, then other pills to wake up, leading to her lifelong dependency on drugs and alcohol.

History tells us that some of the world’s best known high achievers suffered with sleep deprivation.

Napoleon operated on only three hours of sleep per night.

The sleep-deprived included Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and presidents Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

We the Sleepless do travel in impressive circles, but it’s cold comfort at 2 a.m.

 

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.

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