By Alan S. Chartock
For Capital Region Independent Media
Sleep is so important. We all do our best to get the best sleep possible but lots of people suffer because they just can’t fall asleep or, once there, can’t stay asleep. Some get up way too early in the morning.
We are a nation of insomniacs and each of us has our own sleep issues. We all do our best to get to sleep and stay asleep. There’s a lot riding on how well we sleep — a lot of problems in our society are tied directly to the way we sleep.
A lack of sleep can make us groggy during the daylight hours and that can lead to all kinds of accidents. It just takes a second or two to fade out while driving and the results can be tragic. We’ve all heard about the driver who falls asleep at the wheel and veers out of their lane into an oncoming car.
Some people take a nap during the day and that messes them up at night when they should be enjoying their deepest sleep. A short nap can be reviving, but if you stay in bed too long, it can really mess you up for later. Some folks can drink coffee any time of day and have no trouble falling asleep, but others will spend many restless hours if they have any caffeine after a certain time of day.
A lot of us have our own methods to help us get to sleep and stay asleep. In some cases, it’s the number of blankets or pillows that we use. We might need the room to be totally dark. In some cases, we have partners that we bother when we roll over in bed. One half of a couple might keep the other awake with snoring. That’s why some people end up sleeping in separate rooms.
The act of falling asleep can be complicated by little things like how much the window is open or whether or not the air conditioner is on or if the room is too hot. I had a radiator in my room growing up and it made horrible noises.
Then, too, there is the issue of what we do before bed. Do we drink liquids that will catch up with us in the middle of the night? If we get up to use the bathroom, can we fall back asleep?
Some of us have relaxation techniques that help us fall asleep. You can start by relaxing your toes, then work your way up your body until every muscle is in a state of relaxation. There are iPhone apps or machines that you can keep near your bed that play relaxing sounds, like a rainforest or a far-away thunderstorm.
And there are the not-so-good techniques: my mother used Seconal and trust me, I’ve tried it and this is a very bad idea. Once you’ve gone through that kind of addiction or semi-addiction, you spend years making sure that you don’t fall back into it.
My twin brother, Lewis, always claimed that our bedroom on the second floor was located just above the very spot where the 96th Street crosstown bus shifted into second gear. In Manhattan, there was always some guy under your window who could be counted on to yell “HEY!” in the middle of the night. And the sirens never seemed to stop. In our house, the steam heaters hissed and clanked all winter long.
I am sure that I am not telling you anything that you haven’t experienced. One thing is for sure — sleep is very important and we all have to figure out the best ways to get to sleep and stay asleep.
Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.