The Middle-Aged Guide to Growing Up: Sleep Tight


Im a Boomer, born right in the middle of the Boom, along with 400,000 other Canadian kids that year, and Im a pensioner now. Im also a champion sleeper, and I always have been. I fall asleep in the dentists chair (not kidding), I fall asleep the moment I board an aircraft and dont wake up until they open the doors, I can nap sitting upright and chewing gum. I use sleep defensively, to ward off boredom and inactivity, and to store up energy for anticipated drawdowns.

In my 20s and 30s, I was in show business, and those nights dont end until dawn. Wakey wakey was noon at the earliest, and lunch was around 3 PM.

In my late 30s and 40s, in a corporate environment, I had to be at work at 9 AM (well, 9:20, really), and lunch was at 12:30. I still stayed up too late, until 1 AM, but I managed. Corporate life, though endlessly annoying and unfulfilling, is not strenuous.

I quit and started my own business at 45, and immediately started staying up until 3 AM writing and working, not getting up until 11 AM, or until the phone woke me from REM sleep. Im still a sleep champion, remember, its just the hours that change. I cant stay awake more than about 2 minutes after my head hits the pillow, and, since I dont drink, I wake up immediately and cheerfully after about 6 hours.

Then something happened. It was the day the time changed from Eastern Standard to daylight savings. I woke up at 7 AM with the sun, and Ive been doing it ever since. It happened when I was about 50, and its clearly just one of the leading indicators of aging; everyone knows the olds wake up early.

The problem is, we really need about 9 hours sleep. Everybody does. 30 year olds running on 5 hours a night are planting heart attack seeds, and adequate sleep is one of the best things you can do to control blood pressure, hypertension and weight gain, of all things. So how to get 9 hours of sleep a night?

The nap. From 3 PM to dinner, a full 2 to 3 hours. Thats half a nights sleep for some people. I basically split my sleep ration in two, 6 hours from 1 AM to 7 AM and another 3 from 3 PM to 6 PM. This is not unusual, actually, it is quite common in warm countries, and ancient places where they have long practice at the art of sleeping.

In the middle ages, sleep was often a two part phenomenon. Contemporary accounts speak of first sleep and second sleep. The first occurred from sundown to about midnight, at which point, rushes were lit, people woke, ate, pooped, made love, talked and tended the fire. The second sleep occurred from about 2 AM to dawn.

Of course, you need good gear to be a champion sleeper. I have the best, both at home and on my boat. 800 thread count sheets, thick down pillows, feather mattresses, down duvets. Like sleeping in a nest of white clouds, cool in summer and warm in winter. On the boat, the bed has the added advantage of rocking. Add cats for company, and it can be a pretty nice place to spend a third of ones life.