We often hear that Americans are not getting enough sleep. Electric lights (and now screens) are usually cited as the culprits, and Thomas Edison gets blamed for saying we should all sleep less. But the Catholic saints had the same opinion. The shorter their nights were, the more time they could devote to prayer and charitable work.
I just finished reading Father Aloysius Roche’s Bedside Book of Saints, and it’s clear to me that the saints would take issue with several ideas promoted by sleep experts today, including advice for insomnia sufferers looking for a better night’s sleep.
Artificial lighting gets a bad rap in stories about sleep these days. Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, we’re told, our forebears slept longer than we do today.
There are reasons to think this might be true: Exposure to artificial lighting at night delays secretion of melatonin, in turn postponing sleep. Light at night can also reset the body clock, altering sleep timing and giving rise to circadian rhythm disorders and insomnia.
Advice for how to avoid these problems usually runs along the lines of dimming lights in the evening and getting plenty of exposure to sunlight during the day. Count me as a believer here. But the back-to-nature solutions some are touting? Meh, I’ll pass.
I just got back from a three-week trip to Canada, and I slept fabulously most of the time. Insomnia caught up with me just two nights out of 20. That’s as good as it gets.
Sleep doctors claim that people with insomnia often sleep better on vacation. “Of course you slept better on your trip,” I can imagine them saying sagely. “You were away from life stressors, you were away from your bed and your worries about sleep. Why wouldn’t you sleep better in places where anxiety hasn’t taken root?”
I have a different explanation for why I slept so well on the trip.
I had my life organized so my insomnia was under control. I’d accepted—not very gracefully—the fact that I was going to have to get vigorous exercise not just 3 or 4 days a week but EVERY SINGLE DAY. This was part of the dues I personally was going to have to pay to be a member of the Recovering Insomniacs Club.
The exercise routine I came up with wasn’t bad. But then calamity struck.
Parasomnias like sleepwalking, sleep driving, sleep eating, and sleep texting make me wonder: what would it be like to wake up in my car “high-centered on a rock,” as an acquaintance said he did, or to kitchen cabinets covered with the glutinous remains of barley soup?
What happened to me a few nights ago is the strangest sleep-related experience I’ve ever had.
For me sleep is fairly dependable almost anywhere after a marathon hike or bike ride, when it’s hard to do anything except pass out.
But some of the most miserable nights of my life have been spent inside a tent. Camping is where my two biggest nemeses—insomnia and a bad back—conspire to make the night a trial.
I just found out about a new kind of bed. Called the “component bed,” it allows you to “customize” your sleep to a degree never possible before.
But I can’t imagine that this bed would lead to sounder sleep or put the kibosh on my insomnia.