There is a paradox embedded in the question being asked in this essay: how do we “manage” sleep? We all know that the more we worry about sleep and try to manage sleep the more likely we are to remain awake. It is often when we are trying to stay awake while watching a movie or attending a symphony orchestra concert that we are likely to nod off. The Gods on Olympus are truly jokers when they set up the wiring circuit for our sleep machine. Forget about the C and S processes, there is the very unfortunate tendency for that #@$&*$%@$ adenosine to demand attention right when the most interesting part of that TV show is about to unfold. And isn’t it profoundly unfortunate that melatonin seems to fill my brain when I am trying to stay awake while listening to a Mahler symphony (or my pompous friend droning on about his trip to some European country).
There are biological, neurological and even psychological explanations for these paradoxical outcomes; however, I want to focus on what you do about these conditions and what these paradoxical outcomes tell us about the best pathways for sleep. While I will be “getting into the weeds” in the four essays that follow this one, I want to preview three important concepts that are played out in more detail in these four essays. The first of these concepts concerns the sleep bridge (I mentioned in the introductory essay) between the two (or more) segments of sleep that many of us (as we grow older) experience. The second concept centers on the need for us to work at four different levels when setting the stage for high quality sleep: no one “remedy” will work (despite what the TV commercials suggest). Third, when identified our own unique pathways, we need to take into account the views of experts in the field (knowing that their advice might often differ), the actual sleep-related experiences of the “common folk” (people like us), the accessibility of various pathways, and the cost associated with each pathway.