sleep

I've always been good at sleep.  My mother used to say that as a baby I slept through the night well before any of her friends' babies.  She thought that was something to do with her mothering skills until she had my brother who didn't, and she realised that babies will do what they are suited to!  As a child I loved my bedroom and I loved my bed.  I liked to have the door closed so that nothing could get in during the night (I still do, to my husband's amusement) and I loved the sense of my bed as a nest, warm and snug and mine.  In winter I loved my flannelette sheets and the comforting weight of the blankets.  In summer I loved turning over my pillow to get the cool side against my cheek.  Bed was a place for dreaming, for reading.  I was an outdoor child and for me inside was for making and eating food at the kitchen table or for bed.  You can tell I was a child from an age where television was a rare thing!

I love sleep and I need it.  When my children were small babies I quickly became a milk spattered zombie, groping through a sleep deprived fug, barely able to speak but miraculously restored to competence by six consecutive hours of night time sleep.  I don't sleep well in the day and if I do nap in the daytime I struggle to sleep at night.  So adult life has fallen into a pattern; day for wakefulness, night for sleeping, now, without the demands of work or children, bed at around eleven and ideally around nine hours of sleep.  How I would have longed for that when my children were small.  Easy.

Or perhaps not quite so easy.  Because sleep, it transpires, even for one like me who seems to have been built for it, is the measure of a quiet mind.  If Ian and I have one of our rare but brutal arguments I might as well spend the night reading in a chair.  When I have known that one of our daughters or daughters in law was in labour I have bobbed in and out of sleep all night like an apple in a bowl, coming up for air, wondering why I am awake and immediately remembering.  How is she?  Is there a baby yet? How is the baby? Is everyone all right?  And the night before I see my father, roughly once a week these days as his motor neurone disease paralyses and silences him, I both struggle to go to sleep and wake at three or four in the morning.  I have grown accustomed to making myself sleep on these nights by sinking half a bottle of wine at speed when we arrive at my sister's house after a five hour drive.  Is this wrong?  Probably.  But it works and leaves me with only the darkest hour to contend with.

I have become good at not allowing my father's illness to overwhelm my life in the nearly two years since my mother died.  I have learnt to focus on the fact that I am doing my best for him, that I am a wife, a mother, a friend, a grandmother, a sister, as well as a daughter and I know he wants me to live as well and happily as I can.  I can see that even now he can no longer tell me because he himself lives as well and happily as he can, an extraordinary example of what can be done in adversity.   So it is only in that dark wakeful time that I am invaded by thoughts of what it is like to be him now, paralysed and silenced, staring into the dark.  I can't seem to stop those dark minutes but I have learnt to go with it, to breathe slowly and calmly, feeling the breath coming in and going out as we do in my yoga class, accepting that it is what it is and letting it go, opening my hand and seeing the thoughts fly away like the swallows above our bakehouse.

So I can't really give anyone else any advice about sleep.  For me it seems that sleep is easy when life is easy and hard when life is hard.  I know all the advice about restricting screen time before bed and gently raising your temperature with a warm, not hot, bath.  Mostly if life is ok and I cannot go to sleep it is because I have not enough done enough physically to make myself tired and getting up for an hour before trying again seems to work.  I certainly do not recommend my half a bottle a wine technique except in extremis.  And night waking for me is the simple result of the fact that not everything can be slept away.

But sleep is to be treasured and the place that you sleep to be cared for: a clean bed, a calm and quiet room, an electric blanket in winter and dark and star filled skies, if you are lucky.

How do you sleep?

Comments

  1. Sleep is nature's nurse, a wise friend used to tell me, and of course the Bard Let's us know that "Sleep ...knits up the ravelled Sleeve of care." Such good advice when one CAN sleep but rather a taunt at 3 or 4 in the morning. Somehow, that's the time I often wake with heart-pounding anxiety. Luckily, like you, I've put some coping mechanisms in place and, luckily also, generally have pockets of time available for making up the lost sleep later. Unlike what our daughters and daughters-in-law (and sons in and out of law as well, for that matter) are going through,
    Wishing you continued strength and sleep as you spend time with your father, both physically and mentally

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    1. Thank you Frances. I wonder why the waking strikes between three and four? For me it doesn't seem to be affected by when I went to bed or how much sleep I've had. It's just when the darkest hour strikes!

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  2. A good night sleep is a blessing. I must have a restless mind, if I wake up during the night there is no going back to sleep for a couple of hours.I echo materfamilias, wishing you strength and sleep to cope with life's problems.

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    1. Strength and sleep, what a perfect combination! Thank you.

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  3. for you an apple in a bowl. I think of it as bobbing along just below the surface. Not quite asleep, not quite awake, awful. Then I hope the next night will be SO tired that I sleep anyway. When I worked in Zurich I alternated nights, sleepless, then exhausted sleeping.
    Now it is the Ungardner's turn to battle to sleep thru the night. Extreme gardening helps.

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    1. Perhaps I should adopt extreme gardening, if only because it's such a great phrase!

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  4. A beautifully written post (as they all are). I wish you well in dealing with your father's illness. Thank goodness I sleep really well at night and can also fall asleep at the drop of a hat if I sit down to read or watch television.

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    1. I'm not much of a sleeper in front of the tv or sitting with a book, although it does happen from time to time. You are clearlyan all round mistress of the art!

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  5. I am one of those people who loves sleeping. When people talk about the waste of time, I just shake my head. When I wake up, I don't let myself think a single minute. I 'open' my kindle, and read. I fall asleep in not too long a time. And if I am troubled and can't sleep, at least I've read a good book. The past two years have been quite unsettling off and on, with some minor worries and a few huge ones, and my kindle has gotten me through those nights. I could easily sleep ten hours and often do - a joy of older life that I never expected. I am so sorry for all you've been through and are going through.

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    1. Thank you nan. Much of life is very happy too! I so agree about the kindle. I am steaming through books at the moment, escaping into them the way I used to do as a child. How do people manage who don't read?

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  6. Elizabeth, before I turn my words to praising the land of Nod, I want to thank you for letting me know that the newspaper article reached your. That part of NYC is getting lots of attention now, lots of political dueling and so forth. I might send you another article in the future.

    And now...on to the value of being able to enter sleep easily. I am very fortunate in recent years to accomplish this late night journey very easily. Eight hours is a regular span, but my current waking hour schedule's demans really do allow me to often capture nine hours' sleep.

    Some nights, I might be slightly awakened mid REM, by some sort of local street sound, but most nights...no interruptions at all. Just sailing into that land of Nod until just before sunrise, and then...should I wake, it's drifting off again for another hour or so.

    I know how fortunate i am.

    In the past few weeks, new plot lines have entered into the dreams that I actually remember upon waking. These are by no means nightmares, but intriguing enought to encourage me to try to figure them out. Lots of puns in dreams, I think.

    Love to you and yours. xo

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    1. I am glad to know you sleep long and deeply Frances! It's a blessing as you say. I too love the business of waking and turning over to go back to sleep. It feels like such a luxury every time! For me it has been one of the glories of stopping my job.

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  7. I enjoyed your thoughts on sleep, I'm the same - I can't sleep or nap during the day (unless I'm ill) and mostly sleep soundly from 11pm to 7am. But worries will interrupt my thoughts and make me restless.

    I can't sleep when cupboard doors are ajar, probably a hangover from childhood when I was very ill with measles and became delirious - seeing creatures coming out of the wardrobe!

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    1. I am the same about the bedroom door being open. Just can't settle at all!

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  8. Beautifully written piece, as always! I retired this year and, after several years of working long shifts and, in particular, being on call at night, I have a regular sleeping pattern again. I too, am a naturally good sleeper; this was totally disrupted by even the thought of a phone call in the middle of the night and the responsibility of the decisions made in the wee small hours. I now sleep soundly again as long as I am physically tired. Bliss! You reminded me of the sleep-deprived fug of early mornings with small babies!
    Best wishes in dealing with your father's illness, thoughts can besiege in those dark wakeful hours you describe. The breath is a good tool!

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    1. I have always thought I would really struggle to work nights. I suppose you must get used to it if you have to! Glad to know you are now getting proper sleep.

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  9. Sleep is very important for me and I go through phases of night waking but not because I have anything particular to worry about. I have noticed that it is linked to evenings when I have a high sugar content (e.g. too much chocolate - sigh...) and so I have wondered if it is related to a dip in blood sugar levels. As a result I try to limit my sugar intake but if I fail I drink water before going to bed and this seems to help. I also make sure that I have a hot water bottle if I am sleeping by myself because it maintains my temperature better than an electric blanket and I am more likely to go back to sleep when I wake.

    Best wishes as you find your way through this challenging part of your life.

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    1. I must say that I love my electric blanket but I have seen a really beautiful fair isle hot water bottle cover which I'd love to make so that might make me change my allegiance!

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  10. Ah, that's lovely and so full of wise words. Even better, now that I've had the pleasure of meeting you and chatting with you, I can hear your voice as I read this. I love my bed too, and, like you, my experience is summed up by your observation that when life is hard, sleep is hard to find... I'm afraid it's been a bit like that here recently but today I'm enjoying a lovely summer day in November (!) so will be concentrating on planting Spring bulbs and looking to the future. All best to you, Cx

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    1. I find just the same when I read your writing Chris! It's one of the many pleasures of meeting people whose blogs you love.

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  11. Your words describe my experience so well - once again. What is it about the wee hours and our parents?
    i am able to nap on holidays - delicious!

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    1. I don't know why the early dark times work like this! Perhaps by that time we are sleeping more lightly so can more easily be pulled into wakefulness. And yes about holiday napping. It's the only time I do it really.

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  12. I always sleep badly and need substances to nod off but it is nothing compared to your reasons for disturbance - very touching account of a most terrible disease. So good that you have strong family bonds to withstand it all.

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    1. I'm not sure how people manage without the family support. It seems to me like the skeleton without which we would all just slither to the floor!

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  13. I can really emphasise with this post. The years of baby and child interrupted sleep, regular on call nights as a District Nurse left me longing for a good nights sleep. After a few years of sleeping better, the last two years have seen me sleeping fitfully, waking at four and having the phone at my ear listening for a call to go to my poorly Mum. For the last few weeks of her life I slept with her, or rather lay with her caring and waiting. Mum passed away four weeks ago today and my grief is raw but sleep, well I could sleep around the clock. Take care, I do so appreciate reading your posts, Jane x

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    1. That sounds like a wonderful thing you did for your mother. I'm very sorry to hear of your loss.

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  14. What a great blog, I do not sleep well when life is difficult, after 20 years of very little sleep I now, in the main, sleep much better. My life is calmer, happier and much less stressful. There is the odd night I don't sleep well, but they are rare now. Strangely in a good nights sleep I will wake at 4 am, but now I go back to sleep until the alarm wakes me.

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    1. It's a particularly lovely thing I think to wake and turn over and go back to sleep!

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    2. It's definitely a luxury I fully enjoy when it happens :)

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  15. Welsh Hills Again has been included in our A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that we hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

    http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2015/11/a-sunday-drive_8.html

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  16. I used to sleep well and didn't mind waking for Farming Today or Ramblings but lately to my consternation I have been finding the World Service broadcasting and that really is too early! This morning it was 4.37 but I don't usually want to know the time. You have a lot of day time worry to invade your sleeping hours, I greatly admire your fortitude. My son and daughter in law are seriously sleep deprived with a non sleeping one year old. I wish I could do something about that because I see the impact it is having on their health and coping ability. I at least don't have to look after anyone when I wake, but I do have to be fit enough to care for the baby for some quite long days.

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    1. Serious sleep deprivation such as your son and daughter in law are experiencing is no joke. I really hope things improve for them soon.

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  17. I have just found your blog via another blog and really enjoyed reading this post. I go the other way and sleep more when I am stressed....it seems to be a coping mechanism for me and in the morning I do feel better for it.
    Your blog made me think back to when my girls were babies and neither of them slept through the night until they went to school and I too used to long for sleep....but isn't it funny, I would jump at the chance to go back to this time as I so enjoyed being at home with them while they were small.

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    1. That's interesting. Many years ago my aunt had a downs syndrome baby and she too seemed to cope partly by sleeping a lot. Must just be a different way of responding to stress and difficulty.

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  18. I do envy you your ability to sleep well, most of the time, and empathise with your comment about the aftermath of your rare fights with your husband... likewise. Your father's situation is so hard and no wonder your sleep is disturbed by your feelings about him. You have had a lot to deal with these last few years. Life just never really lets up, does it?

    I lost my ability to sleep easily with the arrival of my babies, all of whom woke frequently in the night until they were 2 or 3, not helped by me going to them too quickly to make sure everyone else wasn't disturbed. My marriage breakdown exacerbated my difficulties and I still have issues with sleep. A good night leaves me able to cope with anything and vice versa. Interesting post.

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    1. It's a fundamental part of our well being I think. I know I am lucky that most of the time sleep does not elude me.

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  19. I'm usually a good sleeper unless I'm worried, which is my state of mind at the present time. (We've just bought an old stone cottage and the reality of the work required as opposed to the rose-tinted fantasy is so scary - I've taken a huge leap out if my comfort zone and I'm not sure I'm up to the job.) My son was an excellent sleeper (six consecutive hours at six weeks), my daughter was terrible. I know so well the feeling of worry about parents. Look after yourself Elizabeth.

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  20. My mother had motor neurone disease too and it is a very cruel and sad disease. I can't sleep at all if I have the slightest upset. I really have to look after my 'sleep hygiene'. Take care of yourself, it is very hard when parents are old and ill. I love your blog and your instagram.

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