FUNNY WOMEN: Sleep Tips by a 90-Year-Old Insomniac


When you get older, sleeping at night is a challenge. Funny how it can be much easier to sleep during the day, particularly during a pandemic. For those who don’t want to stay up all night, here are some tips I wrote so I don’t forget them.

Don’t sort through your night table. Among the random papers will be unpaid bills for stuff you don’t remember ordering, written reminders of urgent things to do that you’ve (successfully) put off for years, and old Playbills from plays you don’t recall seeing like A Long Day’s Journey into Florida. It’s okay to throw out the Playbills, but wait until morning. Other papers are equally useless—like directions on how to properly install batteries into hearing aids, which, of course, you don’t need.

Don’t go through old photographs (part 1). If they are of college class reunions, then you’re likely to stay up because you:

1. Remember some of the faces but not their names;

2. Remember some of their stories (she went on to marry that politician—what’s-his-name?—who was later caught) but not their names;

3. Don’t remember the faces or names even though their names are listed in the caption;

4. Remember the faces and names perfectly but wish you didn’t.

Don’t bother looking for your magnifying glass or reading glasses; you won’t find them. And if you do, you will have forgotten what you wanted to read. (It was the names in the captions of the college reunion.)

Don’t go through old photographs (part 2). If they are of young children, then you will spend time figuring out if the kids are your kids or your grandkids. If yours, it will upset you to see them so unkempt, and you will wonder why you let them be photographed wearing that sweater! If your grandkids, how adorable! But then why aren’t you in the photo with them?

Don’t watch TV after midnight. The news is enough to keep you awake, and if you’re watching a cable channel presenting shows like Murder, She Wrote, Magnum, P.I., or Diagnosis Murder, what’s scarier are the commercials for medications that are hard to pronounce and whose side effects may be worse than death. Also scary are the “low-cost insurance” offers that aren’t actually low cost, and the law firms claiming they can get you or a loved one big-money compensation if injured or dead as the result of taking widely advertised medication.

Don’t clip out newspaper stories to share with your kids. First, they won’t appreciate the implicit advice you’re giving them or the implication that they’re uninformed about some issue. Second, they may have already seen it online, days before you read it in the print edition. Third, whatever the newspaper says will certainly not help you fall asleep, tonight or ever again.

Don’t go online and check out Facebook. This suggestion is important, according to my children, for several reasons: 1) If you don’t realize that Facebook distorts reality, then seeing photos of your friends’ kids will be provoking because they’ll seem to be doing much better than yours—and that will cause unnecessary friction when you inform your own kids. 2) You might discover that a distant acquaintance has passed away, but their child never called to let you know. And you won’t know which part bothers you more. 3) You may feel compelled to post a comment about politics on the page of a departed cousin’s grandchild—someone who doesn’t know who you are or why you’re judging their inhumanity. Again, this tip came from my children; feel free to disregard it, as I do.

Don’t organize your junk drawer. There’s nothing in there that you ever need again (or perhaps ever needed in the first place). Some of it is certainly older than your grandkids and may be older than your children or even you. You should just get rid of all that stuff. But not now. You can take care of it in the morning. Just write yourself a note.


Rumpus original art by Kaili Doud.


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Naomi Birnbach is a New York City-based writer whose work has both appeared in newspapers, magazines, and books and disappeared in publications that went out of business. A 90-year-old insomniac, she is the “NayNay” to nine grandchildren and great-grandchildren. More from this author →