A Pirate Looks at 73

Rick La Roche, Navy SEAL, diplomat, pilot, college professor, champion gamer, motivational speaker on geopolitical, leadership and team-building issues, blogger, and reality TV star – at 73 – wakes up every day with curiosity, excitement and vigor.

Part of the reason for his attitude are the three rules about aging he adheres to:

  • You are what you believe you are
  • The goal is to die “young” as late as possible
  • Make sure you’re still alive when you die

Another reason for his attitude? It’s just the way he lives his life, and oh, what an exciting life he has led.

A proud Baby Boomer, Rick’s childhood in Tampa, Florida wasn’t unlike most boys of the time, but Florida-style. “We swam a lot. So, we learned about alligators, and we learned which snakes were dangerous and which weren’t.”

Rick was predestined for a life of adventure. “I broke my arm twice by the time I was 6,” he recently revealed in an interview. “The first time was when I fell out of a tree that was slippery during a storm. The second time was when I tested my mother’s theory that ‘you shouldn’t climb trees when it’s raining.’

“It was a time when you were told that anything was possible. There were jobs galore, and you didn’t have any boundaries if you were willing to do the hard work to get there.” 

With a love of all things water and a mastery of swimming, Rick became a competitive swimmer in high school, and one of his favorite movies was “The Frogmen.” Turns out, that movie would have significance later in life. 

 “I didn’t know much about goal setting in those days,” Rick said, and after a couple of months of college, he dropped out with plans to start a lawn care business. “The day after I asked my father for $50 to start my business, he took me to the recruiting offices for all branches of the military.” The choice was: “join one of these four.”

Navy boot camp in Great Lakes, IL led to Gunner’s Mate Guided Missile School, during which Rick tested to become a member of the US Navy’s Sea, Land, Air Teams (SEALs). When those orders didn’t come, Rick was stationed on a guided missile destroyer. It wasn’t until he was thousands of miles away in the Mediterranean that orders came for Rick to return to the US to begin Class 39 of BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school).

Let’s pause here for a little perspective about the SEALs: Only about 1,000 recruits make it to SEAL training. Of those, only about 250 complete their training and join approximately 2,500 more active SEALs, who work among nine active-duty teams. 

“I was scared shitless, to be honest with you,” Rick said. “I’m not particularly large and there were some massive guys there. I started thinking, ‘I can’t worry about these people. I need to worry about myself and live in the moment. If you look too far ahead, it can be overwhelming.

“This was the beginning of learning how to set goals and break them down into micro goals,” Rick explained. “Whatever the evolution (exercise) was, you only thought through that exercise. Never what was coming next.

“I told myself, they can’t make me quit, and they can’t throw me out. All they can do is try to make me quit.” When he made it through Hell Week (week four of the 24-week program), Rick knew he’d complete the program.

“Hell Week is five days and five nights solid with a maximum total of four hours of sleep. It starts at sundown on Sunday and ends at the end of Friday.” Although he doesn’t remember all the details from Hell Week, he does remember going into the barracks Friday night and hearing his chief instructor yell, “you’re the worst people who’ve ever tried to become frogs – and there’s nothing that says we have to end Hell Week today – so we’re doing it all over again.” 

“That’s when a guy got up and quit,” Rick said. “He just walked out. But as soon as he did, the instructor told us he was just kidding, and that he could usually get one more person to quit that way.”

Hell Week, indeed.

After his military service, Rick attended commercial flying school and earned his private pilot’s license. He returned to university, but the wanderer in him sent him to Pamplona for the “Running of the Bulls,” which turned into a trip around the world. He eventually began teaching in Stockholm, Sweden, where he met his first wife.

Rick returned to the US and ultimately obtained his undergraduate degree in Geography and Political Geography. He returned to Sweden and continued to lecture at the Stockholm School of Economics. Eventually, he returned to the US and worked as a diver for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Key West and lectured at Florida Keys Community Collage and was struck again with wanderlust that led him to California.

“I was teaching at the Army and Navy Academy near San Diego when my wife heard that people were invited to take to foreign service exam. I never thought I would be a diplomat,” Rick said, “but I took the test anyway.”

After “taking (and passing) the test,” an all-day written exam and personal profile, Rick was invited to DC for an all-day oral exam. “They don’t expect the ‘right answers’ – they just want to see how you react to hypothetical situations.” While 50% pass the written exam, most are eliminated at the oral exam. Rick passed.

After the security interview, Rick learned he was one of three from the original 19 who had been selected. Two were attorneys, Rick was the third. 

As a Foreign Service Officer with the US Department of State, Rick served in Indonesia, Iraq (where he was embedded with the military in Najaf), New Zealand, Samoa, Sweden, Egypt, and Israel. (After his retirement from the United States Foreign Service, Rick now lives with his family in Sweden.)

It was while working with Multinational Force and Observers in Egypt, monitoring the area as part of the Camp David Accord Peace Treaty, that Rick happened to read in an online Swedish newspaper that auditions were being held for “Robinson,” the Swedish equivalent of the US television show “Survivor.” With age 70 and compulsory retirement approaching rapidly, Rick was looking for his next big challenge. He sent in a tape. 

Two months later, during his rotation as mission control officer at his base in the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Rick was called to participate in further auditions. These included more interviews, full medical exams, and a psychological exam to determine “why he’d want to do this at age 70.” 

Rick “survived” on Robinson almost to the end. During a competition where the remaining 12 participants had to balance on one foot on a pillar for as long as possible, Rick lost his balance and was ultimately sent home for emergency knee replacement. “I’d had 13 operations on my left knee and five on my right knee by that point. This was going to be knee surgery #19.”

However, once replaced, that knee served Rick well for three years. Then he tore the ACL in his other knee when he became a contestant on the Swedish version of “Alone” called, “Ensam I Vildmarken” (Alone in the Wilderness) at age 73.

Rick was once again the oldest contestant along with seven other participants. “We were dropped off in the northern Norway wilderness and left on our own. No film crews or anything. We used GoPro cameras to film ourselves making our own shelter, finding water, wood, food and making fires. It was a real adventure.”

Unfortunately, the adventure ended when a middle-of-the-rainy-night bio break caused him to fall and severely twist his right knee. He twisted it again the following morning. “I knew immediately I had ruptured my ACL. I had to call for the doctor to evaluate me. He came, checked me out and said, ‘If you can’t walk, you can’t gather wood, make a fire, find food and stay warm. You are already entering hypothermia, so I’m pulling you from the competition.’

“I had been lying on my sleeping bag for hours and was shivering and shaking uncontrollably. He told me I would die if I tried to stay. Advanced age and low body fat are highly dangerous in the cold. Not the way I wanted it to end, but at least I gave it a shot. Part of mental toughness is being able to make and accept the ‘hard’ right decisions. You have to challenge yourself and learn how to deal with failure.”

Rick is the first to tell you (and proudly) that he’s made many mistakes and suffered many failures in life, but quickly adds that the best lessons he’s learned have come from those experiences. “That’s part of the fun and the challenge. To expand your comfort zone and learn new things. Most of the time, I screw up and fail, but every once in a while, I succeed. And then it’s all worth it.”

In Lesson 35 – “Stay Young At Heart”-  in his book, “Forty Tools for Life,” a legacy of lessons he wrote for his two sons and grandson, Rick advises, “It’s people with old attitudes who’re the worst enemies of the young at heart. Some people are born old. You can see it in their eyes. It’s best to keep away from such people because they’ll tell you to ‘grow up’ or ‘act your age.’ And that’s terrible advice!”

Although Rick La Roche is currently finishing two books, “Catching Life” and “A Boomer Looks Back,” he is in the market for new challenges! So, if you need a pal to go buildering with, join you on a swim across the ocean, or just share a simple Mount Everest climb, give Rick a call. He’s almost finished with rehab on his other knee and is ready for an adventure. 

Nighty Night! How to Get the Sleep You Need

Are you getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night? 

Wait let me rephrase that  … are you over 55 and getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night without taking anything?

Because I’m not.

I used to. I’d fall asleep literally sitting up in bed with my Kindle in my hands. At some point, my husband would remove it (because he’s an insomniac), and I’d gain consciousness again 8-10 hours later. NOTHING happened in between. Total oblivion.

But lately, when I finally fall asleep (caffeine stopped, exercise done, Kindle down, lights out, post hot shower), I do so only to WAKE BACK UP anywhere from 1-4 hours later. And then, I’m in middle-of-the-night-psychotic hell. Here’s a little glimpse into what happens in my brain next:

Okay, okay, I’m NOT going to turn the lights on. I’m just going to breathe and relax. Did I turn the stove off? I’m sure I did, but should I check? Nah, I know it’s off. Okay, relax. Where’s the cat? Oh the cat… did I put the rug she pee peed on in the dryer? Is the dryer still on? I probably shouldn’t fall asleep with the dryer on. Dryer sheets. I need to add that to the grocery list … but what else do we need? Wait, where’s my husband? Is he okay? He’s probably just walking around, but maybe he went to check on the dryer/cat/grocery list and fell down and is hurt.

By that point, he’s usually back from whatever nightly perambulation he was on so I can go back to thinking about how I can’t fall asleep.

While it seems like fun to think about getting a text-pal in a time zone that’s 6-8 hours ahead of mine, the fact is that not getting enough sleep can have severe consequences on your physical and mental health … and I can’t afford either of those!

So, I did some checking into the most current research and information about insomnia – and if these suggestions don’t help you get sleep, just try reading this at bedtime – I’m pretty sure it can bore you into unconsciousness!!

What is insomnia?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, insomnia is defined as “persistent difficulty with sleep initiation, duration, consolidation or quality.”  It is more prevalent in older adults (30% to 48%), women (25%), and people with medical and mental health issues. (Oh, I am SO SCREWED!)

In a 2018 article entitled “What’s New In Insomnia Research,” Dr Dieter Riemann, the founder of the European Insomnia Network said, “Ultimately, insomnia rates have risen because there are so many more distractions in today’s society. It’s much harder to relax, to wind down, to shut out disturbing thoughts, and having a lot on your mind can interfere with how well you sleep.”

It’s much harder to relax, to wind down, to shut out disturbing thoughts, and having a lot on your mind can interfere with how well you sleep.

AND THAT WAS PRE-PANDEMIC!

Although I couldn’t find any research later than 2018, Google Trends affirms a dramatic increase in internet searches for insomnia as we’ve experienced the COVID-19 global pandemic. Studies are being discussed to determine whether an increase in insomnia symptoms as a result of the pandemic will persist and lead to higher rates of chronic insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights per week for three months or longer).

Techniques for Overcoming Insomnia

CBT-I

For chronic insomnia in adults, guidelines published in 2016 by the American College of Physicians, and supported by the British Association for Psychopharmacology, and jointly the National Institute of Health and the Sleep Research Society recommend that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Insomnia (CBT-I) as the first-line treatment.

CBT-I is a short, structured, and evidence-based approach to insomnia. The program typically takes 6-8 weeks and involves cognitive, behavioral, and education components that help you control or eliminate negative thoughts and actions that keep you awake, develop good sleep habits, and avoid behaviors that keep you from sleeping well. To find a practitioner, contact your physician, the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine or the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

Unfortunately, due to the widespread need for this treatment, there aren’t enough CBT-I professionals to meet the current demand. However, researchers have developed successful digital, group, and self-help formats as alternative ways to provide treatment.

In a year-long study (Northwestern Medicine and University of Oxford) involving 1,711 people, researchers found online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) improved not only insomnia symptoms, but functional health, psychological well-being and sleep-related quality of life.

If you’re interested in participating in a study on the efficacy of online CBT-I, the Stanford University Sleep Health and Insomnia Program (SHIP) is recruiting participants. Click here for more information.

Behavioral changes

Not quite ready to try the structured approach with CBT-I? There are a LOT of other things you can do to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. So with an attitude of optimism, these are some of the easiest things you can try TONIGHT to help you get the sleep you need. 

Take a shower or bath and add aromatherapy
People who took baths or showers (even as short as 10 minutes) measuring between 104°F–108.5°F 1 to 2 hours before bedtime found that going from warm water into a cooler bedroom causes your body temperature to drop, naturally creating a sleepy feeling. Sleep-inducing aromatherapy ingredients for your bath can provide added benefit. Many are available already mixed, and you’ll find some great recipes here.

Try relaxing music
Various studies report that slow, soothing music can lower the heart rate and relax the body, reduce anxiety and stress, or simply distract from stressful thoughts that prevent sleep. Look for playlists that feature songs with an “ideal” tempo of 60-80 beats per minute on Spotify and other music resources.

Set an intentional “worry” time earlier in the day
Plan a 15-minute worry break during the day to process thoughts. During this time, you might consider writing a to-do list or thinking about solutions to your concerns. Actively working on this during the day will keep you from giving it space at night.

Start a gratitude journal
In a study of college students who reported insomnia, expressing gratitude in writing each evening at bedtime helped improve their sleep compared to baseline. 

Breathe Deeply
Breathing exercises are designed to bring the body to a more relaxed state by bringing down some functions that can make you anxious. Want to try some now? Download “Deep Breathing and Guided Imagery for Relaxation and Sleep” here.

Try imagery distraction
Studies show that guided imagery, where you are given a specific cognitive task (and involving all of your senses), can calm your body and relax your mind.  You can find many guided imagery scripts online and on apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Spotify. You can also download “Deep Breathing and Guided Imagery for Relaxation and Sleep” here.

Make your bedroom comfortable for sleep:
Be Cool
Our body temperature is cool while sleeping and warmer when we’re up. So the goal at night is to mimic that change in body temperature. Research advises setting your thermostat to 60–67°F at night.

Avoid clocks in your bedroom
People who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep tend to focus on the time and the fact that it’s passing while they’re watching it – the perfect storm for anxiety and sleeplessness! Don’t look at the time in relation to your sleep routines. However if you need an alarm, turn the clock away from you or place your alarm clock where you can’t see it.

Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy
Ultimately your goal will be to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day (weekends included). BUT for now, you should not get in bed unless you are sleepy. By the way, you’re supposed to read that book (made of paper) in another room until you’re sleepy and THEN go to your bed. Reading IN BED is not allowed! Who knew?

If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes of turning off the lights, or if you wake up and can’t fall back asleep in 20 minutes, get out of bed and reset
Lying awake in bed for too long can “create an unhealthy mental connection between your sleeping environment and wakefulness.” Get up and try a “reset break.” During this time you should do something relaxing like read a book,, have a cup of camomile tea, or listen to relaxing music. The goal here is to shift your attention away from trying to go to sleep, which is NOT a relaxing exercise!

Bed is for sleep (and for some people – sex) not awake activities
It’s not your home office, so bringing your laptop, TV, and food into bed with you is a no no. Your bed should conjure feelings that are conducive to sleep, and research shows that these activities can trick our brains into thinking this space is for these activities and thereby training it to be more awake than sleepy in bed. If space is an issue (studio apartments, etc.) then use one side of the bed for sleep only, and the other side for other activities. This is a last-resort option!

Stick to a sleep schedule
While you’re aiming to go to sleep at the same time each night, it’s also important to wake up at the same time each day, regardless of the time you went to sleep at night. If you didn’t sleep well at night, chances are you’ll fall asleep more easily the subsequent night. Alternatively, if you allow yourself to stay in bed to “catch up,” you may find it difficult to go to sleep that night. 

Stay active
A great stress reliever, regular exercise has been shown to improve the quality of sleep. Research suggests that you get your exercise in at least three hours before you turn in.

Check your meds
Many medications can affect your sleep. Check with your physician or pharmacist to see if anything you’re taking might be causing your insomnia. 

Avoid or limit naps
Especially when you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, the temptation to take a nap can be powerful. But don’t. However if you just can’t avoid it, limit your nap to 30 minutes or less and don’t nap after 3 pm.

Don’t tolerate pain
If you have pain that is affecting your sleep, talk to your doctor about a pain reliever.

Be aware of when you need light, and when you need dark
Exposing your body to light, whether it’s natural light or a digital device (e-reader, phone, tablet, etc), tells it to be alert. Darkness, on the other hand, promotes a sense of sleepiness and boosts the natural production of melatonin. During the day, try to expose your body to natural or artificial light (light boxes work great). But at night, turn off digital devices and keep your bedroom as dark as possible. 

Focus on trying to stay awake
I’m not sure I’ll try this one … but some studies have shown that when you force yourself to feel sleepy, your chances of falling asleep decrease dramatically. However, although research is mixed, some studies have shown that people who try the “paradoxical intention” to stay awake tend to fall asleep faster. Let me know if this works for you!

Acupuncture
Some studies have shown that acupuncture may be a beneficial treatment for insomnia, but more research is needed. Ask your doctor how to find a qualified practitioner (unless you’re from my hometown … in which case I have a great name for you!)

Weighted blankets
A recent study of 120 adults published in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that weighted chain blankets are a safe and effective intervention in the treatment of insomnia. “A suggested explanation for the calming and sleep-promoting effect is the pressure that the chain blanket applies on different points on the body, stimulating the sensation of touch and the sense of muscles and joints, similar to acupressure and massage.”

Yoga or tai chi
Some studies suggest that the regular practice of yoga or tai chi can help improve sleep quality.

Avoid certain foods and drinks
A few hours before bed, avoid caffeine, alcohol, large meals, and foods that induce heartburn. However, consider eating (in moderation and earlier in the day) from these five food groups that support good sleep:

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Nuts, especially almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty Fish
  • Teas, expecially chamomile

Prescriptions, OTC Medicines, and Herbal Treatments

FIRST, TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR before you try any of these remedies.

Totally exempting myself from legal ramifications, prescription medications like Eszopiclone (Lunesta), Ramelteon (Rozerem), Zaleplon (Sonata), and Zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist) are often prescribed for insomnia although doctors prefer to limit their use to a few weeks because of side effects including balance issues, daytime drowsiness, and the concern of their habit-forming tendencies. 

Over-the-counter sleep aids
Because the Food and Drug Administration does not mandate that manufacturers show proof of effectiveness or safety before marketing dietary supplement sleep aids, talk with your doctor before taking any herbal supplements or other OTC products. Some products can have harmful interactions with certain medications.

Drugs like Benadryl,  Aleve PM, and Unisom contain antihistamines that can help you sleep but are not intended for regular use. Additionally, side effects including daytime sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, cognitive decline are possible, which may be worse in older adults.

Melatonin
Some research shows that the hormone melatonin can help reduce signs of jet lag and can help you fall asleep. Side effects can include headaches and daytime drowsiness. While generally considered safe, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises caution when using melatonin.

“Evidence-based recommendations published by the AASM indicate that strategically timed melatonin can be a treatment option for some problems related to sleep timing, such as jet lag disorder and shift work disorder. However, another clinical practice guideline published by the AASM suggests that clinicians should not use melatonin in adults to treat chronic insomnia, which is what many are experiencing during the pandemic.”

“Melatonin isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to nightly sleep trouble,” said Jennifer Martin, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a member of the AASM board of directors and a professor of medicine at UCLA. “People who have difficulty sleeping should try making changes in their bedtime routine and environment first, and if that doesn’t help, or their insomnia becomes chronic, they should work with their medical provider to find the best treatment option.”

Valerian
There’s mixed study results on this plant-based supplement, but you should talk to your doctor before trying it. Some people who have used valerian in high doses or for a long time may have liver damage, although it’s not clear if valerian caused the damage.

One more thing to try
If you’re still having trouble falling asleep, try reading the articles in this list of resources. Let’s just say, I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep!! Now gey schluffen!

Resources:

The Anerican Academy of Sleep Medicine

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Facebook)

“Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I)”

“The management of unwanted pre-sleep thoughts in insomnia: distraction with imagery versus general distraction”

Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial

“Can Music Help You Sleep Better?”

“Google Trends reveals increases in internet searches for insomnia during the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) global pandemic”

“Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice”

Mayo Clinic – Insomnia

“What’s New in Insomnia Research?”

“Sleep aids: Understand over-the-counter options”

“Weighted blankets can decrease insomnia severity”

“Insomnia symptoms, overall health improve with online insomnia program”

“What to do when you can’t sleep”

“Behavioral interventions for insomnia: Theory and practice”

“Healthy Sleep Habits”

“Five Foods That Support Good Sleep”

“Sleep tips during isolation: Preventing insomnia”

“Missing the mark with melatonin: Finding the best treatment for insomnia”

“Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities”

“One in four Americans develop insomnia each year: 75 percent of those with insomnia recover”

Insomnia (Sleep Foundation)

“Insomnia in the Elderly: A Review”

US Department of Health and Human Services – Women’s Health – Insomnia

Crazy Ladies

Last night I was reading a book in which the 92-year-old grandma was “wearing a pink and orange print cotton blouse with a tissue wadded up in the sleeve, bright blue spandex shorts, white tennies, and stockings rolled just above her knees.”

… to a funeral.

Her only concession after being chastised by her family? She’d be sure to get some black shorts for an evening viewing.

What some might call crazy or eccentric, I aspire to.

I’m not sure when this became my goal, but I have some ideas. 

It might be my memories of my mom who loved nothing more than dressing up like Dolly Parton or any other celebrity to entertain at her annual hospital volunteer appreciation banquet. This was a serious affair – she was the director of volunteers for a large hospital and her banquets often included more than 500 people, including her bosses.

And she wasn’t concerned about what people would think. She was in her 70s, she had confidence, she had fun (and she loved dressing up!).

And while previous volunteer directors gave speeches applauding the work of the hospital volunteers, my mom’s way of doing it was memorable. You never left an annual banquet without being entertained by her imagination and bravery. But despite her showmanship, she had a way of making you feel like YOU were the star of the show. 

I don’t know about you, but I always really enjoy being around eccentric people. Give me a 90-year-old woman who is laughing loudly, wearing neon blue eyeshadow, and talking about her first kiss, and I’ve just found my new role model. 

What is it about people like this that makes me feel good? Maybe it’s because they seem to be living their lives without censure, no longer caring as much about “propriety” and instead focusing on living a life that is authentic to them. Maybe they figure, “I’ve spent my life so far caring what others think of me … I’m going to spend the remainder caring what I think of me.”

No wonder I have crazy-lady aspirations.