My five-year-old grandson spent the night with me recently, and he just wasn’t interested in going to sleep. He wanted me to read The Cat in the Hat which he said he hadn’t heard before. He was so impressed that he asked me to read it again. I’ll have to admit the Cat has been a favorite in this house since my kids were little.
Finally, exhaustion took over—for grandma—and we both headed off to bed. I cannot sleep unless I read. That’s just the way it is for me. Usually, by the time I get to bed, I’m so tired, that I can only read for five or ten minutes. So I picked up The Courtship of Nellie Fisher, a book I’ve been reading on for months. In my defense, it is three books in one, and I’m nearing the end.
My grandson rolled over onto his stomach and propped his DSI on the pillow. After putting a racing game into motion, he put his elbows on the bed, stuck his hands beneath his chin and watched the cars race around the track.
After reading a few minutes, I put my book down. “Time to turn off your game and go to sleep,” I said. No response. “Come on,” I said, “it’s bedtime.” I leaned closer, and saw his eyes were shut tight. I turned off the game and rolled my sound asleep grandson into a more comfortable position.
I was wide awake at four in the morning. My mind was spinning with all the things I had to do. The more desperately I need sleep, the more elusive it is. After tossing and turning for an hour with no signs of sleepiness taking over, I turned on the light to read for a while.
I looked over at my grandson who was lying crosswise in the bed. I could see his body, but not his head since it was hanging over the edge. Once again, I got him situated.
My sleep problems began with Jim’s dementia. It has been a decade since Jim’s sleep pattern changed so much that it affected both of us. Jim got to the point where he just didn’t seem to need sleep anymore. When he didn’t sleep, I usually didn’t either. Sometimes, I was so exhausted that I didn’t wake up when he crawled out of bed to wander through the house—or out the door.
I remember the night I woke up from a sound sleep and he was gone. I jumped in the car and went looking for him. I was frantic until I found him meandering down the road as if it was perfectly normal to be walking in the middle of the night wearing sunglasses.
For someone who didn’t want to sleep at night, Jim always seemed to take a nap, or two, during the day. Then, by evening, he would become restless. This is a common problem known as sundowning.
We were getting about four hours sleep on a good night. Chronic lack of sleep becomes a habit and just being tired isn’t reason enough to go to bed. It’s usually when my eyes start burning or I nod off watching TV that I know it is time to give it up.
Since I have to get up early to go to work, I try to get to bed at a decent hour. When I make a real effort to go to bed early, then I’m wide awake at three or four in the morning and can’t go back to sleep. It really seems like a preference as to whether I want to stay up late, or wake up in the middle of the night.
My sleep, or lack thereof, goes hand in hand with how hectic my days are. From time to time, I’d just like to sit down and do nothing for an hour without feeling guilty. Between hectic days at work, volunteering, writing, and my publishing business, I’m no longer just burning the candle at both ends, I’ve torched the middle as well. I guess if the candle burns out, maybe the darkness will help me sleep as soundly as my grandson.
Copyright © November 2012
For more about sleep changes visit http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10429.asp.