For most of my life, a good night's sleep came easily to me. Even when awakened by a crying baby or an unexpected noise, returning to slumber was never a problem. Only when I was truly worried about something, like the serious illness of a family member or a frightening event like the terrorist attacks did I have trouble falling asleep and staying that way.
Then Covid-19 happened. At the beginning, I had some real anxiety about it. At least in the early going, the possibility of contracting the disease which would eventually take the lives of more than a million Americans was really frightening. My husband Andy had several risk factors and of course, we were both well over 70. Like everyone, we were really strict about exposing ourselves by going to the grocery store or restaurants, as well as wearing masks in public. We stayed home most of the time and for a while, didn't even see our children and grandchildren. I began to have trouble either falling asleep or getting back to sleep if I woke up. Note: After avoiding Covid-19 for more than two years, I got it after attending a wedding in Philadelphia.
I tried a number of strategies, like staying up later than I usually did or taking things like Tylenol PM. Neither was effective. Then I tried a small dose of melatonin. Not only did it not help my insomnia, but I felt slightly buzzed the next day. I've always been a morning person--the most productive time of day for me. Now I felt like taking a nap by 9:30 a.m., which was most uncharacteristic.
It seemed the only way for me to eventually get back to sleep was to get up and do something else until I felt really sleepy. So, I would get out of bed, put on my robe and slippers and repair to the family room. Usually, I would get a snack, like a yogurt or little bowl of cereal. I found that getting something in my stomach helped me eventually go back to sleep. There was only one problem with this approach: Toby. Our 10-year-old dachshund sleeps on the end of our bed. He is such a mama's boy that when I leave the room, he wakes from a sound slumber and follows me. This does not please him at all, and soon he was whining because he wanted to get back in bed. I found that if I got him up on the couch, he'd curl up in a blanket and snooze.
I never take my phone or a book with me, just find something I really like on TV for about an hour. I've binged through Nashville a couple times (my favorite TV show ever), all 12 seasons of Call the Midwife, and recently New Amsterdam (about a hospital where things happen that would never occur in a real hospital). Last night, I watched The Four Seasons, a 1981 film with Alan Alda and Carol Burnett that I've always liked. When I feel myself getting drowsy, that's when I head back to bed, dachshund in tow.
I've since learned that insomnia is fairly common in people over the age of 65. Maybe it's because we don't get enough activity during the day to tire us out or that we just don't need as much sleep as when we were younger. So, I've decided not to fight it. If I haven't drifted off after about 20 minutes, I quietly leave the bedroom with Toby and amuse myself with a low-stress TV show until my eyes are beginning to slam shut. Then I go to sleep quickly and wake up refreshed. Maybe insomnia will go away, maybe not, but at least I know what works for me.
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.