Rubbing your feet with a dead mouse. Brushing your teeth with your dog’s earwax. Shampooing with pig bile. Noshing on Sea Slug sushi.
Just the thought of all this grossness is enough to keep us awake at night. But, I kid you not, at some point all of them were considered 100% reliable cures for insomnia.
Of course we have “better” modern-day remedies for insomnia: Medications and dietary supplements (and their negative side effects), relaxation and hypnotherapy, “Sleep Restriction Therapy,” and there are even so-called experts who hire themselves out as “sleep whisperers.”
Some experts also say that, especially for us seniors, our minds staying up and working the night shift could be hazardous to our health. Older long-term insomnia sufferers have a higher susceptibility to being involved in traffic accidents, cognitive impairment that leads to accidents and falls, heart disease, depression, weight increase and higher addiction rates.
A majority of us elderly have asked our doctor what to do about bothersome sleepless bouts.
I’m not talking about the occasional restless night. I’m talking about chronic long-term insomnia — difficulty sleeping for three months or longer.
Would you believe that the most recent studies show that the best cure for insomnia may be no cure at all?
A Sleep Historian (actual job title) from Virginia Tech recently published a paper proving how we humans once slept in two distinct phases. A first sleep two hours after dusk followed by a waking period of one or two hours. And then a second sleep.
Between sleeps, people back in the day didn’t lie awake in bed and worry about if and when they’d fall back to sleep. Instead, they used that time productively. They prayed. Read. Visited neighbors. Worked on a hobby. Had sex (remember that hobby?)
Of course the idea of sleep part one and its sequel went by the wayside with the industrial revolution, the evolution of street lighting, electricity, night life, Johnny Carson — all of it enticed us to stay up later.
But now sleep experts are jumping back on the bandwagon and agreeing that the period between sleeps that our natural body clocks provide us is not only natural but also potentially beneficial — so long as we stay away from screens and other buzz-inducing activities.
This is great news for those of us who walk around muttering that we don’t have enough time in the day. Nature has gifted us with a quiet, undistracted, self-indulgent hour or two to spend as we wish to make our life more fulfilling: journal, bake, meditate, read, organize old photos, listen to music, start a new hobby (or wake up our partner and rekindle an old one!).
So next time I’m awakened and unable to get back to sleep, I’m not going to toss and turn. Instead I’m going to turn to another room and do something soothing for awhile.
And maybe I’ll go to the refrigerator and see if we have any leftover Sea Slugs!
Until next time…keep thinking the good thoughts.
— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is the founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.