To Sleep, Perchance to Wake at 3 am – Ay, There’s The Rub

April 1, 2017

Apologies to Hamlet. But really, I think Hamlet was talking about doing himself in, or in his words, “shuffled off this mortal coil”.

Me, I just want to sleep through the night.

When we get older our sleep patterns change, not usually for the better. My sleep patterns currently suck.

Is it normal to wake at 3 am just so I can fall asleep reading, or watching TV, or listening to my wife talk about her day at 8 pm? So I turned on my Android tablet and said to it, “Okay Google, Why do we have sleep problems when we get older?”

And to paraphrase Google:

Changes to sleep patterns are part of the normal aging process.

(Well that sucks.)

67% of people over 55 complain of frequent sleep problems. When we get older we tend to produce less melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep.

(Nothing seems to work as well as it used to.)

It is a common misconception that sleep needs decline as we get older.

(I fell asleep right in the middle of the latest Star Wars movie; in the middle of a battle scene.)

Okay Google, so tell me something I didn’t know.

Falling asleep in the early evening and getting up in the AM is referred to as “Advanced sleep phase syndrome” (ASPS).

So now that I can put a name to it, everything will be fine – NOT!


Making Lemonade, literally

Not being able to sleep past 4 am is being given a pretty sour lemon. After weeks of just lying in bed in the pre-dawn I decided to give up trying to get back to sleep and I just got up. It turns out that is not such a bad thing after all, especially in the hot season.

I now get up when I wake up. I do some yoga, lift a few weights, do some Internet surfing, and write this post. After a few hours the sun comes up and I go out into the garden. My assignments are to rake the leaves and lift bags of manure, something I can really use my costly education for. At this time in the morning it is nice and cool.

I also check out our fruit trees, especially the lemon grove. I pick whatever is ripe. By 8:30 am, I’ve been up for about 4 hours by now, the sun starts getting hot and I’m done for the day, except for a nice cold lemonade from the lemons I picked earlier.


One solution

I recently found a small solution to this sleep problem. A good Thai friend had just bought a new house right on the Ping River here in Chiang Mai. As most Thais will do when they move into a new house they had a Buddhist ceremony to bless the house and to call for happiness and prosperity for the new occupants.

The ceremony consisted of a retelling of the occupant’s life history and then the nine monks got down to chanting. As they began to chant all the guests placed their hands together in front of them. I did the same and also closed my eyes. About 20 minutes later the chanting was finished, and I awoke from the best and most refreshing sleep I had had in the last few weeks. If this Advanced sleep phase syndrome doesn’t get better I just might make visiting a house warming ceremony a regular thing.


Those of you who have been with me since the beginning of time, or at least since I was writing the “Retiring Attitude” column for the Chiang Mai City Life magazine, might remember that I touched on the topic of sleep once before.  It was so nice to live in a world before my advanced sleep phase syndrome became a part of my life. Here is the article, later reprinted in my eBook Retired Life in Thailand.

Power Napping

“Sir, if you’ll not be needing me, I’ll close down for a while.” With that, the droid C3PO (Star Wars IV, A New Hope) shuts down and re-energizes himself. That always intrigued me. I wondered if I could do the same thing. Then I learned about Power Napping.

Thailand, especially on a stifling hot season afternoon, can be a rather enervating place. There is a Thai word “chee-wit-chee-wa” meaning animated and lively. Well, a hot Thai afternoon will suck the “chee-wit-chee-wa” right out of you. But a power nap might just be the medicine that will get it back.

There are lots of versions of power napping around the world. Spain and the Latin American countries have their siestas, the Japanese have the inemuri and the sleep scientists have what they call polyphasic sleep. They all mean basically the same thing, crashing for a short period in the middle of the day. I have been watching the construction workers in my compound. Right after lunch each person heads for someplace shady; under a tree, next to a wall, under a truck. And they all take part in “polyphasic sleep”. They simply close down for an hour. I’ve learned to do the same thing.

A power nap is not a catnap. A catnap is when you are sitting in your chair and doze off for a few minutes. A real power nap involves a complete break from the hustle and bustle of your daily life. It is a time to be completely relaxed, just as you would in your own bed. The rest you get from power napping is akin to the calm feeling one gets after a meditation session.

Studies have shown that for experienced nappers, power naps are as good as a night of sleep on revitalizing memory, relieving fatigue, and boosting energy. Remember when you were a kid in primary school and you always had “nap time”. There was a good reason for that when you were little and there is a good reason for it now. It is probably unnatural to force yourself to stay awake for 16 straight hours. Watch your dog or cat and see how long they stay awake.

Lately, even big corporations see the value in having their employees take short naps during the day. Some companies are now providing special rooms with low lighting and cots for sleeping. They know that a revitalize employee is a more productive one.

So, how does one power nap? Power napping is trainable. The main thing is to find a place to completely relax, where you can rest, or sleep, for at least 10 to 30 minutes. Here is what I do. I get out of my regular clothes, get into the clothes I use for sleeping at night, I draw the shades, and then I get into bed. I usually fall asleep right away and something in me wakes me after just about 20 minutes (if I sleep longer I sometimes feel groggy). Then I get up, wash my face, brush my teeth, and I am ready for the rest of the day.

Besides feeling refreshed and being much more alert and productive later in the day, I don‟t fall asleep in front of the TV at night anymore. It sounds contradictory but a good nap helps you to stay awake. Like meditation, power napping allows you to release all the gunk cluttering up your mind. It is sort of like rebooting a computer that has too much stored in its RAM that makes it start to slow down.

There is another reason why I think we should nap? To use another metaphor, I like to think our bodies are like automobiles. When we are awake we are putting miles on the odometer. Taking a nap is like putting the engine in neutral. If our engine has a fixed limit in the number of miles we can run then napping, or putting our engines in neutral, will make our engines last longer.

Well, I feel that old “chee-wit-chee-wa” fading a bit. I‟ll get back to work after naptime. Sweet dreams.

16 Responses to “To Sleep, Perchance to Wake at 3 am – Ay, There’s The Rub”

  1. catthai said

    Hugh, as you know I’m a chronic insomniac. For the past year I’ve been on 1mg Melatonin (peppermint) and except for a few times it’s been amazing. I order from iHerb – they are fast and cheap. If you keep your order under a certain weight, even better.

    On 1 April 2017 at 11:22, Retire 2 Thailand’s Blog wrote:

    > retire2thailand posted: “Apologies to Hamlet. But really, I think Hamlet > was talking about doing himself in, or in his words, “shuffled off this > mortal coil”. Me, I just want to sleep through the night. When we get older > our sleep patterns change, not usually for the better. My” >

    • Woke at 2:45 am today. I will check out the melatonin link. Thanks.

      • BruceMacDonald said

        Here in North America, Melatonin is usually sold in 3mg or even 10 mg tablets. A pharmacist friend of mine was alarmed to see that. He said even three is way too much. One is right. Even with the “natural” stuff, proper dosage is important.

        Also, how do you wake up from a nap after only twenty minutes? I end up crashing for two hours, which seems an awful waste of a big chunk of the day.

  2. Ivan said

    Just turned 68, and I have noticed something similar.. Usually if I drink heavily I would wake up at 3 am, which is counter intuitive.. Now that I started experimenting with “Not Drinking” I sleep through the night.. We are in NH at the moment in a frozen slush storm, but the same time the year before we were in Nokan Sawan . Between the heat and cold , I think I will take the cold, at least for now.

    Thanks for your Blog, always gets my attention.

    • Ivan, I don’t drink alcohol. Sober for 39 years. So that isn’t the problem. Hope your “experiment” is successful. There is a reason that abstaining from intoxicants is one of the 5 Buddhist precepts. I like the heat, at least up until 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). After that my brain dies.

      • Ivan said

        I agree on all counts Hugh.. I went with a month of not drinking , than a friend from Singapore visited for 2 weeks, felt I needed to be sociable ? But now he is gone..

      • bumbling vagabond said

        Hugh, I hadn’t heard about the 5th precept of Buddhism. It may explain why I haven’t, usually, seen Thai people drinking heavily, but lots of soda and ice with a little whiskey.

        The precept is a great one to follow based on its intention and purpose, to have a clear mind and breaking this precept breaks others.

        I talked to my wife about it and she feels, as a Buddhist, a little bit to drink is okay at times, such as a nightcap from time to time.

      • The precept is not about abstaining from alcohol. It is about not getting intoxicated (alcohol, drugs, etc). A nightcap is no big deal. Getting drunk is. The reason is that if we are intoxicated or stoned then we lose our ability to think clearly which makes us more prone to making decisions that can cause us or others suffering. I know I have make some really stupid decisions when under the influence. And one of the 12 steps of AA is to go back to people you have harmed and try to make amends (for those stupid things).

        So go ahead and have that nightcap.

  3. Tom Elam said

    Hugh: I am with you as basically I have reversed my sleep cycle and am awake nearly all night while hitting a few power naps in the daytime. I watch lots of live USA sports during the Thai night but mainly now there is this hilarious new show on live US TV basically 24/7. It’s got a crazy premise about an orange faced, funny haired, president of the USA..even his name is goofy…yeah to quote Peewee Herman “It’s so funny, I forgot to laugh”. Enjoy it while it lasts!!!

  4. Amy Praphantanathorn said

    Hugh, I read that Coffee Naps are becoming a thing now, too. Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to take effect and so you drink your cuppa and go have your nap. You are then boosted doubly from the nap and the caffeine. I have done it before and it works well!

  5. bumbling vagabond said

    Work and reading after work, along with other mental and physical activities have been working for me lately in regards to sleep. Also, meditation when waking up and before bed. I try not to eat a lot of carbs and limit liquid intake, which is usually a couple of cups of cocoa made with almond milk, water, and pure cocoa (no sugar). Tweaking the diet is helping. Trying to eat less.

    Seems many people go through periods of sleeplessness or short sleeping stints, only to end up taking a short nap or two in the daytime.

    • My problem is that I am 71 years old. Can’t do much about that. I have been blessed my whole life with instant sleep. I have tested myself and I fall asleep in under 30 seconds from the time my head hits the pillow, every night. Always have and I still do. I think it might be a type of narcolepsy. It is just that I wake up so early now – usually after about 4 hours of sleep.

      By the way, almond milk is not milk. Milk is milk, and I love it. Have cut down since my last checkup though. Chocolate (or cocoa) without sugar is not really food, neither is meat without fat, inedible. Anything labeled “low fat” to me tastes like cardboard and I avoid it like the plague. I just do everything in moderation. Blood sugar is great, cholesterol is a few points high, blood pressure 130/80, heart rate 70, have done #2 every day at the same time for 65 years. I also seriously meditated for 30 years (now I just do what I call living meditation).

      Favorite food: chicken skin, pork fat, ice cream, all of which are on hold until I get my cholesterol down a few points.

      I just wish I could sleep for 8 hours instead of 4.

  6. bumbling vagabond said

    That’s fantastic to be able to sleep so quicky and easily, as long as it’s on demand and involuntary! Nice to be able to go to the doctor and get a great bill of health. That’s always a blessing.

    A nice, long deep sleep is nice and hopefully not “plagued” by dreams all night. I find that if I read a lot, which is often, I dream like made. I have a badly developed habit of drinking the cocoa too late in evening then getting up every couple of hours for a bathroom break. However, this adds up to a nice dream which is mostly forgotten by the time I get back into bed.

    Living meditation. That’s how I’m approaching life these days as there are sufficient savings to retire early and I have a great wife and family life. We could pack it up and move to Thailand and have all the free time we want.

    Having time behind you is good for self-reflection. There’s the Power of Myth series with Bill Moyers where Joseph Cambell is saying (paraphrasing) “you live your life wondering why all these things happen to you then when you are older, you look back and you realize how everything makes perfect sense, that all those things had to happen and they make you what you are now.”

    I suppose we reach that age where we have a good idea of what’s going on. And we’ve maybe meditated and felt in tune with life and ourselves. And we maybe appreciate that we are alive and that life is amazing. It’s as basic as living in the moment and “stopping to smell the roses.”

    I don’t always enjoy being at work (in a cube/office politics), but to wake up early in the morning and listen to the quietness. The stillness of morning. Driving down I-5 to work and see the light coming up behind the Cascades. Taking walks at lunch and seeing wild rabbits and flowers. It’s quite beautiful and part of my living in the moment and in that living meditation.

  7. bumbling vagabond said

    Is the jury still out on high-fat diets like Dukan, South Beach and Dr. Adkins? I thought there was their contrarian evidence that fat is fine or good for health, and cholesterol in particular.

    I had been on these diets before, but switched to moderation, but still with an eye on low carbs.

    As for milk, there was a discussion online about what qualifies for the moniker ‘milk’. Someone pointed out that the ‘almond milk’ has been used as a term back to the Middle Ages and that the Oxford English dictionary recognizes it as such. The milk industry has wanted to change that for some time.

    A couple of cups of heated almond milk and water with a pinch of pure cocoa helps take the edge off our (wife and I) day. We don’t like to add sugar to anything we eat (honey and pure maple syrup are fine). Drank milk daily for decades and just can’t drink it, anymore. Last cup of milk was organic, as well. My body likes simpler processing, I suppose.

    Fat is where’s at for flavor in meat. Hard to believe people eat salmon fillets, paying extra, and the fat has all been skimmed off!

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