by Holly Varni
May 30, 2022

I couldn’t fall asleep last night. It’s a common problem for us old folks. We go to bed in anticipation of getting rest for our weary bones and aching joints, hoping for relief from the constant tiredness that plagues us. I climb into bed, eagerly longing for the familiarity of my mattress beneath me. Sometimes I find myself wishing I could put on my pajamas at three in the afternoon because I’m ready to go to bed. But I wait. I’m always afraid someone is going to come to the front door and think my bedtime is 5:00 pm.

When the blissful moment of bedtime finally does arrive, I lie down with a heavy sigh ready to sink into a deep slumber, and then . . . nothing. I just lie there awake. Sure, sometimes I may doze off for a while, but then I inevitably wake up. It’s been years since I’ve slept through the night.

If you ask me, it’s a total waste for the elderly who, have all the time in the world and relatively few demands in life, to have insomnia. The deprivation of sleep should be blessed to the young who are trying to make their mark in the world, or parents who are trying to keep up with their children. When they go without sleep, they may look a little fatigued, but they recover. When an elderly person goes without sleep, we look like the walking dead in a zombie apocalypse. There are mornings I wake up and scare myself when I catch a glimpse of my reflection.

It’s also not as if I’m productive during my sleepless nights. My mind may be awake, but my body sure isn’t in agreement. There is no part below my nose that wants to move once I lie down, so I stare into the darkness.

Worries are catastrophized because they have time to stew. Prayers turn into conversations lasting hours. Dreams are substituted with contemplation over how life turned out differently than expected . . . which then leads to thinking about how the kids aren’t kids anymore, and the surprising adults they’ve become. They have young children and mortgages to prove it.

I shake my head and think, “How did I get to be this old?”

It’s said that busy hands accomplish much, but what about a busy mind? I’ve concluded that the life review that runs through my head at night is nothing but a bother. I can’t change the past and the future is such a short and unpredictable road that it’s not worth fretting over. That leaves the present, which is filled with this jumbled mixture of extremes. I have a list of complaints, but a litany of things I’m grateful for. There’s confusion but also great clarity. I’m content in the calm, and grow tired in the chaos. I relish the small things that used to go unnoticed. I’m irritated instead of energized by the noise in the world. And any wisdom I’ve gained is wasted because those who need it are too busy trying to find it themselves. 

So, what is a little old lady to do with herself as she lies staring into the night?

I’m not sure.

Let me sleep on it and get back to you.