This Week in Elder News: 7 June 2008
New Survey of Boomer Online Activity

A Normal Annoyance of Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Last Friday, Dr. Bill Thomas, The TGB Geriatrician, wrote about age-related changes in sleep patterns, dividing them into medical disorders, which can be treated, and normal changes that are merely annoying.

Merely annoying?!?

Who knew there is a name for what I’m tired of living with - "Phase Advance" which, according to Dr. Thomas, is the

“…fancy medical term for the experience of going to bed earlier in the evening and waking up earlier in the morning. The sleep phase advances as we age. Many older people fall asleep early in the evening, yet awaken much earlier than desired in the morning and cannot fall back to sleep easily.”

It doesn’t matter what I’m doing in the evening after about 6PM; if I’m not on my feet moving around, I fall asleep. Where once I woke at 4:30-5:30AM – an excellent time of day to awaken - it’s been backing up in the past few months to 3AM and on some occasions, 2AM-2:30AM without a chance of going back to sleep. It’s not often yet, but it’s creeping in that direction and of course, the earlier I fall asleep, the earlier I wake.

If this continues, before long I’ll be “phase advancing” to awake in the dark and asleep in the day and I’ll never see the sun again.

The only upside I can see to this is that I can exchange “live” email with Claude of Blogging in Paris, Nikki of Nikki’s Place and Lia of Yum Yum Cafe who live in France, Sweden and Germany respectively and for whom it is normal morning hours when I first sit down at the computer. Forgive me, ladies, but I’d forgo that for more regular hours.

Am I alone in this? Has anyone got a solution?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean recalls the pleasure of times past at the beach in The Jersey Shore.]


Yes, take an afternoon nap. It works for me. I get uncontrollably sleepy about 9:30 but fight going to bed until after the ten o'clock news. My getting up time is about 5:15. The nap doesn't have to be long, even a good 20 minutes will do the trick. Maybe you'll have to practice. But everyone here where I live has the same problem.

You're totally forgiven, Ronni!

But I'm glad you brought this up, because I worry about you! I think you should consult a doctor. How 'bout Dr. Thomas, for instance?!? It just doesn't seem right.

I appreciate the concern, Nikki, but according to Dr. Thomas, this happens to a lot of people. And I do get enough sleep, just at the wrong time of day.

Maybe you should read a book, or do your web surfing in the evening?

My problem is that I tend to stay up too late at night doing those things.

I had more or less accepted it as normal. My problem is that I usually have at least one and usually two evening meetings per week that keep me out past 10, and I still wake up at 3:45.

Ronni, in our youth, Hub used to jokingly say to the neighbors. "You should do like I do. If energy or ambition strikes, I lay down until it passes."
The joke -- not so funny anymore. Now if energy or ambition strikes, we both stay awake until it passes -- even if it happens to be 3:00 in the am. The rest of the time we sleep and ignore the orthodox waking and sleeping hours of those around us. No matter what time it is, if I feel 'human' and capable of mental or physical action, I won't be laying down. It too infrequently happens.

It's the kind of attitude that avoids the 'fight' between getting enough rest and making good use of wake/alert time.

I share your pain, Ronni. I find that most of my friends do also. I am glad to know that it is not abnormal. Naps do not work for me. I still fall asleep watching TV at night after taking one.

If I have three nights in a row of waking at 2 or 3 am I take a sleeping aid to help break the bad habit. I am 'good to go' for a full nights sleep for about a week when I awaken at 3 am again.

You’re not alone Ronni.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, what you describe is annoying, but not life threatening. Also, I’ve heard Dr. Wayne Dyer suggest that, if you find you cannot sleep and it’s 3 a.m., get out of bed; go outdoors and connect with nature. Of course, he lives on a lovely beachfront property in Hawaii. My normal evening (if you can call it that) is to go to bed between 9:30-10:00 p.m. I usually wake up and stay awake between 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. If I’m lucky, I fall back into a deep sleep until my alarm goes off a 7:15 a.m. I work and used to worry about driving, but, it’s been going on too long to be concerned. I remember thinking aging only meant getting wrinkles---ha!!

Wonder if anyone has had success using melatonin in pill form for a sleep aid?

I must confess to needing benedryl at bedtime to fall asleep. Maybe because my workday is hectic, or maybe because personal life has been crazy, or perhaps just because my mind gets hung in hyperdrive at night - whatever the reason(s), for the past few years, my sleep patterns are irratic.

Sometimes I seem to "work" in my sleep as well, and when I awake, I know my sleep has not been deep or restful, and that I have puzzled/dreamt of unresolved or overload from work.

Then again, I come from a long line of worrywarts. My DNA is hardwired to worry about worrying.

Yes, a nap helps me. Yes, our sleep hours initially changed because of his work hours: 9:30pm to 5:30am works just fine unless I wake at 0400. Shorting myself that hour and a half louses up my day.

I have a friend in Alaska who gets turned around every winter. Light seems to be her trick for a more normal schedule.

Interesting to read sleep patterns of others.
I have always gone to bed early and gotten up early.
Is a little earlier each way now.
I love the mornings that is my high energy time.
Difficult to hold my eyes open past 8:00 or 8:30. Have tried taking a nap but not successful as of yet.
When family visit they are always teasing me "mom it's your bedtime"
Awake about 4:30 and my day begins.
Hope it gets no earlier then this.

What gripes me is when I manage to stay up late I still wake up earlier in the morning than I want and cannot get back to sleep. Once I get more than 3 hours of sleep and wake up in the middle of the night sleep eludes me.
I had ascribed it to stress but I guess it is part of the phase advance.

I must be the odd soul who is good at sleeping. I usually stay awake reading until about 12:30 PM then after about a half hour I fall asleep and sleep until about 9 or 9:30 in the morning. I have never been an early morning person.

I do take Tylenol PM and occasionally Simply Sleep by Tylenol to help me along.

Melatonin has helped me sleep. Tylenol PM has, too. It's miserable not being able to get to sleep and stay that way as long as needed. Although I'm a nightowl, I don't like it when I can't get to sleep until after 2:00.

I've always been a nightowl, but too often I find myself falling asleep while trying to watch TV (7-8pm) and waking later and blogging until very early in the am. I need to quit that!

I find the herb valerian to be very helpful (the best in my opinion is from the Vitamin Shoppe) as well as Stash chamomile tea.

So far I go to bed around 9 to 10 and ideally wake up around 6. It takes me awhile to fall asleep and sometimes that's a long while but it's always been this way. If I wake during the night, generally I can go back to sleep and find the earlier I wake, like 2 AM, the easier it is to just go immediately back to sleep.

I have sleep apnea, so have a CPAP which stands for Continuous Positive Air Pressure. When I adjust that across my nose and head, sleep comes in a matter of minutes...and for all night to early morning. It's wonderful.

"Phase Advance"
Well at least I know that I am not alone.
Why has this not been discussed before now.
I kept thinking that I was only the first to be affected this way.

When Im awake at three and realize I'm not going back to sleep, I head for my keyboard and peck at myself in my journal pages, sometmes for several hours. Shucks, at 82, living alone, who cares what time I sleep or don't sleep?

Even when I was a kid,I used to lie awake nights worrying about not sleeping ("Gee, almost midnight, I can't get to sleep and I've got an exam tomorrow")Then, about 20 years ago, I discovered "Tryptophen", an amino acid that promotes the production of serontin and encourages healthy (not drugged) sleep. I bought it at my local health food store for several years until the "BigDrug" guys got it taken off the market (it was starting to eat in to the sales of the highly popular and very profitable sleep medications)
Good news - it's back and you can buy it at
It regularises sleep patterns, you don't feel drugged in the morning and it's cheap.
"Try it, you'll like it" (If you have trouble sleeping)

My solution: get up, go to computer, do a jigsaw puzzle, then maybe a crossword puzzle, go back to bed.

Haute Dawg! The first thing I did when I read your column and all the comments this morning was to show it to my husband. He is always telling me that he is worried about me because he is sure that I do not get enough sleep. The fact that he has always been able to fall asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow and stay asleep till morning might be one reason. The other reason might be that he is 10 years younger than me. I must admit a slight sense of "neener, neener" when I await in the middle of the night and see him awake and watching TV without the sound.

I remember that a girl friend of mine in high school said that her grandmother always talked about waking up in the middle of the night with the "woolies". We never knew what that meant and never asked, shame on us. But since I am allergic to wool, I always have associated the term "woolies" as something that makes me itch and scratch and, of course, it is often the life things that make me itch and scratch that keep me awake. Things always seem worse at night when you can't get back to sleep and stay in bed trying.

Therefore my solution is to get up and attack the computer. My favorite weapon is playing MahJong
at But if a creative or wise thought comes to mind then I will work on a blog or lens post or sit down with a note pad and pen and capture them the old fashioned way. Sometimes the mind likes to revert back to that way.

If I have had several nights in a row with sleep eluding me, I am like others in the comments who use some sort of sleep aid. I am late checking my emails this morning because last night was just one of those nights. My OTC drug of choice these days is Advil-PM. I took one when I went to bed at 10--slept until 2:30 when I woke to perform the nighttime bathroom ritual--but went back to sleep until my husband came in to check on me at 8:30 a.m. And I always count those kinds of nights as putting credits in my sleep bank that I know I will draw on in nights to come.

Perhaps someone should start a nighttime LOL and LOM Chat Club for those who can't sleep at night and give up trying to. My use of LOL and LOM comes from my world of working within Aging Services for many years. We fondly referred to our favorite clients as LOLs (Little Ole Ladies) and LOMs (Little Ole Men). Now I proudly resemble that remark.

It's my husband that I have worried about. He sometimes gets in a pattern of napping too long after our evening meal, watching television until the middle of the night then crawling into bed. Sometimes all of this keeps me awake or worse yet, wakes me up. Perhaps I should "give him some slack" on his sleep habits as they sound similar to many commenters. We have discussed separate bedrooms, but I like his company.

I wrote about insomnia and sleep changes in a blog entry Jan. 5, 2008. Too long to post as a comment, but there are lots of hints there. Also I quote an article in AARP from Mar-Apr 2007 that gave some helpful ideas for re-training sleep patterns. I no longer have trouble sleeping except when I travel. I'm heading for major jet lag next week, so will try a new remedy sent to me to try: a sleep aid containing l-tryptophan (the stuff purported to be in turkey that makes you drowsy.) I'll try it and report back.

I can't take melatonin - I go to sleep when it's dark, but even after 8 or 9 hours asleep, I wake up feeling drugged and unable to form a single coherent thought. I have friends that do quite well with it, however.

Anyway, check out the AARP article, and my blog for the hints. Good sleeping and sweet dreams.

I've always been a night owl and the older I get, the more owlish I become. As I don't work any longer I can organise my days and nights any way I like, so when I feel sleepy, usually somewhere around midnight and I:30 a.m., I just go to bed.
Unfortunately I can't sleep late in the morning as I used to when I was young, whether it's Sunday or any other day.
I usually wake up around 6:30 or 7a.m.
But I do take naps during the day when I feel like it, not every day, but pretty often.

I have been going to bed between 8p.m. and 9 but sometimes even earlier. I usually fall asleep quickly but then wake up between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., depending on nature's call. If I find my mind thnking or worrying too much, I get up, watch some TV or putter around for an hour or two, and then I can usually go back to bed and sleep til 5-6 a.m. I feel rested enough. I find that swimming gives a good sleep at night.

The "intermission", as I call it, gives me enough diversion and sometimes I get my best ideas at that time of night.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)