Posts Tagged ‘sleep’

The Sleep Doctor

Monday, May 6th, 2019

pacifico

Elisha and I have been married for two years now and I learn something new about her every day. Yesterday, for instance, I overheard her say to her daughter Alexandra, who is fourteen, and her son Conor, who is seventeen, “When my mother was a girl in Barcelona, she and her mother would make bouquets from flowers they stole from other people’s gardens. And the one time I went to Spain with my mother, when I was twelve, she took me to the street corner where she used to stand with her basket of bouquets and call to the men and women going home from work, “Flowers for your wife. Flowers for your husband. Flowers for your sweetheart.”

Today in Mona’s, the one and only bakery/café in Carmeline Creek, our small town on the far north coast of California, I learned… well, first I’ll set the scene.

Elisha, who is forty-eight, works at Mona’s from six-thirty in the morning until two in the afternoon. She walks to work from our house a few blocks to the west of Mona’s, arriving in time to help Mona and Jose finish emptying the ovens of the first round of baked goods. Then she fills the display-case trays with muffins and pastries and cookies, brews the coffee, opens the front door promptly at seven, and greets the early birds with her cheerful Good Morning.

Elisha was born and raised in Ireland, her father Irish, her mother Spanish, her accent revealing both lineages. Easy in her body, with long reddish brown hair, her work attire consists of a white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, a long skirt, tights, colorful socks, and comfortable walking shoes. She is the morning and early afternoon counterperson at Mona’s and would win in a landslide if she ran for mayor, no matter who she ran against.

I am Paul, fifty-seven, a fifth-generation Californian, my father descended from English Irish Scots, my mother from Ashkenazi Jews. I arrive at Mona’s every morning circa ten and spend a few hours at a window table writing letters and poems and short stories, sipping tea and nibbling muffins, and occasionally engaging in conversations with friends.

I sit as far from the counter as one can without going outside, but even so, if I choose to, I can hear Elisha’s exchanges with her customers, though most of the time her conversations with people ordering bread and coffee and pastries blend with other conversations and the clattering of cups and the clinking of silverware and cars driving by and piano jazz playing on the café stereo—a pleasant ambient soundscape to accompany my scribbling.

But this morning I am riveted by the exchanges Elisha has with her customers; and from these exchanges I learn something new and wonderful about my wife.

Allison Hardy, twenty-eight, formidably strong, works at Carmeline Creek Nursery, steps to the counter.

Elisha: Good morning Allison. You look marvelous. Sleeping better?

Allison: (exuberant) I am. I’ve been following your advice and it really works.

Elisha: Oh I’m so happy to hear that. What can I get for you?

Allison: Well, per your suggestion, I’ll have a small decaf and two bran muffins. To go.

Elisha hands Allison a white paper cup for the self-serve coffee, a white bag containing two muffins, rings up the sale, and as Allison moves away, Thomas Enders, fifty-seven, owner of Enders Hardware, burly, avuncular, steps to the counter.

Elisha: Morning Thomas. The usual?

Thomas: Well I was going to say the usual, but I couldn’t help overhearing Allison say you helped her sleep better. I’ve been having a terrible time getting to sleep and staying asleep for the last… I don’t know… years and years, and I wonder if what you told her might help me, too.

Elisha: It might, but I have the feeling your sleep issues are not quite the same as Allison’s. May I ask you a question or two?

Thomas: (reddens) Sure.

Elisha: Do you stay up late? Past ten?

Thomas: Yes. We watch television every night until eleven and then I let the dog out for a few minutes, and when the dog comes back in, we go to bed.

Elisha: What do you watch on television after supper?

Thomas: Oh we usually watch a murder mystery and then the news.

Elisha: Does your wife have difficulty sleeping?

Thomas: She falls right asleep, but then she wakes up. Bad dreams. And if I’ve managed to fall asleep, I wake up when she wakes up, and then I have a terrible time getting back to sleep and we’re both wrecks in the morning, though she’s usually less wrecked than I am.

Elisha: (after musing or a moment) Well I would suggest that instead of watching the news after your murder mystery, you take a walk in the night air, have a cup of chamomile tea, and listen to some music before you go to bed.

Thomas: Oh but we’re addicted to the news. It’s the grand finale of our day.

As Thomas and Elisha converse, Margaret Johannsen, sixty-three, graphic artist, deep-voiced, gets in line and listens avidly to Elisha and Thomas’s conversation.

Elisha: But Thomas, that’s the pattern you need to break. The murder mystery and the news engage your intellect and ignite a subtle fear response, so when you go to bed you’re in a state of mental agitation.

Thomas: Hmm. So do you think I should switch to decaf?

Elisha: (laughs) I don’t think caffeine is your problem. I think it is your inquiring mind being too excited to sleep. Our left brain, the analytical brain, is meant to run the show during our waking hours, but the right brain is what we want overseeing our sleep.

Thomas: Well, I’ll give it a try. Sure would love to have a good night’s sleep. So… no news, walk outside, chamomile tea, music. What kind of music?

Elisha: Piano.

Thomas: Piano. Okay. And… yes, I’ll have the usual.

Margaret Johannsen: Forgive me for barging in, Thomas, but I urge you to do whatever she tells you. I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in a decade, and three nights after I started following her prescription, I slept for nine hours and felt reborn, and now I sleep like a baby every night.

Thomas: What did she tell you to do?

Margaret: Before bed, I do twenty minutes of gentle yoga, then I take a warm bath, and while I’m in the bath, I sing. Then I eat a banana, brush my teeth, get in bed, and envision in real time preparing the ground for planting carrot seeds, planting the seeds, watering the bed, and… I rarely get past planting the seeds before I’m asleep.

Thomas: Were you watching the news, too?

Margaret: No, I was surfing the internet and dreading another night without good sleep.

Thomas: A banana? (turns to Elisha) Should I try eating a banana?

Elisha: If you’re hungry. Most people don’t realize it takes energy, calories, to sleep. So if you wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, try eating a banana or a piece of bread with almond butter on it, and when you get back in bed, imagine your body being ready now to do the slow and gentle and steady work of sleep.

When Elisha gets home from work mid-afternoon, we take our four dogs for a walk to the beach, and while I’m flinging tennis balls for the dogs, I say to Elisha, “I had no idea you knew so much about sleep.”

She smiles and says, “I wouldn’t say I know much about sleep. But for some reason when I look at a person who is not sleeping well, a solution occurs to me, and sometimes that solution works. But I think the most important thing, no matter what I suggest, is that the person breaks the old pattern with an intention to sleep better, and this intention combined with the new way of getting ready for bed is what does the trick.”

     fin

Sleep

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

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Oasis painting by Nolan Winkler

Ten days ago I woke at eight in the morning feeling utterly exhausted, as if instead of sleeping I had walked fifty miles while arguing with a series of neurotic sidekicks. I was so tired I could barely get out of bed. I nearly fell asleep in the shower. In the kitchen, debating whether to have eggs or granola, I closed my eyes, drowsed, and dreamt I was in my high school cafeteria, waiting in line to buy a snack. When I failed to make sense of anything in my office, I went back to bed and slept for an hour.

When I got up from that hour of sleep, I was still so tired I thought I must be coming down with some sort of bug, except I had no symptoms other than exhaustion. I thought I’d make myself a cup of coffee, and that’s when the light bulb went on in my brain, and the voice of my brain proclaimed, “Your adrenals are exhausted. Game over. Again.”

Let me explain. I was not a coffee drinker until I was in my thirties, and from the outset my body/mind/spirit told me, “This is not a good idea. A sip of java now and then might be okay, but cups of coffee every day? Don’t do it.”

But I came to crave the emotional lift, that easy antidote to mild depression and ennui, and so began my on-again off-again love affair with coffee—a tug of war that has continued for more than thirty years. In the context of my history with coffee, I see now that my recent bout with extreme exhaustion resulted from months of overriding my body’s impulse to take a nap by having a jolt of java, then staying up too late and sleeping poorly, only to repeat the pattern the next day.

Having now gone ten days without coffee or black tea or any sort of caffeine, except what is contained in a tiny bit of chocolate, my energy has increased and my mood swings have become less dramatic. And I’ve been thinking about why I have such a hard time allowing myself to rest when I get tired.

The first time I saw an adult taking a daytime nap was on a summer weekend when I was seven. Having been up since dawn running around throwing balls and riding my bike and climbing trees and chasing other kids, it was late afternoon when I came charging into our house and found my father asleep on the living room sofa, snoring loudly. I was so shocked to see him sleeping in broad daylight, I ran to the kitchen and asked my mother if my father was ill.

“No,” she said, drinking a martini while making supper. “He had a hard week. He’s just tired.”

My father? Tired in the middle of the day? I tiptoed back to the living room and watched his chest rising and falling, his snores reverberating through the house. Imagine a grown man sleeping during the day. The mind boggled.

So yesterday I told my pal Lenny about what’s been going on with me vis-à-vis sleeping and napping, and Lenny, who is several years younger than I said, “Oh man, I nap anywhere and everywhere. I totally depend on naps to keep me sane and healthy. I love sleeping on the floor in a patch of sunlight or on the ground outside on a warm day. Let old mother earth heal me. I judge sofas by how good they are for napping. When I walk into a room, the first thing I look for is a good place to lie down. Without naps, I would be a wreck, a zombie, a beaten down loser. With naps I’m a debonair man-about-town with a twinkle in my eye and a deep abiding love for all living things. Naps are my elixir. I say sleep as much as you possibly can. Sleep is the fountain of youth.”

The National Sleep Foundation web site has this to say about napping.

“More than 85% of mammalian species are poly-phasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans. Young children and elderly persons nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures.

“As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. And it may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap.”

I don’t know if I’d call that good company, but I would certainly call it white male company.

In any case, I am henceforth going to think of myself as a poly-phasic sleeper who cannot healthfully drink coffee. You may be a monophasic sleeper who happily drinks five cups of coffee a day with no ill effects. If that is so, I’m a wee bit jealous of you because I know of no other buzz quite so zingy neato as the zooming liftoff into ineffable happiness, however short-lived, I used to get from a good cup of joe.

I wonder if I could develop the discipline to have but one cup of coffee a year, on Christmas or my birthday or the Summer Solstice or March 17. Just one little cup? I doubt it. I have tried to limit myself to a once-a-week latte, but that inevitably leads to craving more of the same the next day. No, in the long run it is a far far better thing I do to stick to nettle tea and tulsi tea and rooibos tea and apple juice and water with a twist of lemon, and only the very occasional teensy weensy taste of Marcia’s morning java.

Three Bananas

Monday, October 30th, 2017

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did diptych by Max Greenstreet (click on image to make larger)

The laboratory of Luigi Idano and Tamara Whozat. Various experiments underway. Luigi, male, hirsute, portly, prone to sweating. Tamara, female, burgundy hair, pleasingly curvaceous, only sweats in saunas, left eyebrow tastefully pierced with shard of amethyst.

Luigi: I know it’s a small sample size, but…

Tamara: Miniscule.

Luigi: Granted. But the implications are staggering.

Tamara: Hyperbole.

Luigi: Granted. Promising?

Tamara: Three nights, Luigi. Three times. You call this science?

Luigi: I never called it science. I called it a possible breakthrough of epic life-changing potentiality and I want to put out an all-points bulletin post haste trumpeting our discovery to the entire world.

Tamara: All points bulletin? What era do you think we’re living in?

Luigi: Well…then a tweet thing or a face thing.

Tamara: How can you be so out of synch with the way people communicate now?

Luigi: Out of synch? I happen to like all-point bulletins; they point in every direction. I like landline phone connections. I like letters arriving in my post office box. Envelopes with stamps on them. Pieces of paper with writing on them inside the envelopes.

Tamara: Fine. But why not wait until you try your little experiment a few more times? Why tell the world something that might not be true?

Luigi: Because I feel certain it is true. And besides, what could it hurt? We’re talking about bananas here. Who could object to bananas?

Tamara: I know several people who do not like bananas unless cooked in banana bread.

Luigi: How sad.

Tamara: Yes, but the point is…bananas may be too specific.

Luigi: Then food? What if I said food?

Tamara: Not specific enough. Food might include chocolate, and that would be antithetical to your hypothesis, assuming your hypothesis is the one I assume you have.

Luigi: But I must do something. This discovery could make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people, and in the lives of those who sleep with those people. Oh please let me put out an all-points bulletin and a tweet thing and a face thing. Please?

Tamara: I’m sorry, Luigi. I can’t be a party to this.

Luigi: Who said anything about a party?

Tamara: I thought you’d appreciate the archaic-ness of that expression.

Luigi: I do, actually. Okay, I’ll go it alone.

Tamara: You understand it’s not that I don’t want your discovery to be true. I do. But I don’t want another fiasco befalling our enterprise like that whole gluten-free-diets-raise-your-IQ thing we suffered through last year.

Luigi: Well, going gluten-free certainly raised my IQ.

Tamara: There you go again. Extrapolating from insufficient data.

Luigi: Does this mean I can’t use our official laboratory stationery for the all-points bulletin?

Tamara: That’s what it means. Your findings do not come from the Laboratory of Luigi Idano and Tamara Whozat. This is your own wholly unfounded personal unscientific conjecture based on three nights and three bananas. For all we know the ripeness of the bananas may be a major factor, as might your desire for the bananas to be effective. The positive result you attained could be nothing more than a placebo effect, and you know how rigorously we study placebo effects in all our experiments.

Luigi: What if I characterized my results as anecdotal?

Tamara: Yes, do that. But not on lab stationery.

Luigi goes to his desk and writes the following letter.

To Whom It May Concern

For many years now I have had trouble sleeping at night. That is, I rarely have trouble falling asleep, but after a couple hours of slumber I will wake and not be able to go back to sleep. I have tried various herbal sleep aids, sleeping pills prescribed by doctors, hypnosis, psychotherapy, and myriad other cures for what ails me with no good results.

When I recently mentioned my difficulty to my acupressurist, she responded by asking, “Did you know it actually takes energy to sleep?”

I said I did not actually know this, but having slept with people who snore such that they sound as if they are wielding a chainsaw for eight hours without stopping, I can see how sleeping requires energy.

My acupressurist then said she had another client who also used to wake every night and was not able to go back to sleep; and this client, upon learning that sleeping requires energy, decided to keep a banana beside her bed so when she woke in the night and could not go back to sleep, she would eat the banana to give her energy, but not the kind of energy that kept her awake, rather an energy that helped her sleep. And verily it came to pass that eating a banana in the middle of the night worked wonders for her—the wonders of adequate sleep.

So these last three nights I had a banana at the ready beside my bed, and when I woke in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep, I ate the banana and fell back asleep. The first night, I had a dream about putting the wrong address on a package. The second night, I dreamt my funky childhood home turned into a palace. The third night I dreamt I was lost in a fog-enshrouded city. I was dressed as a clown with a tiny top hat and enormous shoes.

Who knows what my dreams mean, but I sure as shootin’ know what falling asleep means; it means I will have a banana by my bedside again tonight and tomorrow night and the night after.

Luigi shows the letter to Tamara.

Tamara: Good for you, Luigi. Send your message forth. Tell the world.

Luigi: I will. And would you post my message on your tweeting face thing?

Tamara: No.

Luigi: Fine. But take a moment to consider a person, possibly a good friend of yours, someone you really like, having trouble sleeping and reading my anecdotal evidence on your face tweet thing and gaining a new lease on life. Think about that, Tamara.

Tamara: No. Now can we get back to work on our will-flax-seeds-in-your-cookie-batter-make you-happier experiment? Our control placebo group of ravenous stevedores will be here in twenty minutes.

Luigi: Roger that. As soon as I send off my banana news to the far corners of the earth I will pop the non-flax-seeded cookies in the oven.

Tamara: Good. And I’ll make the coffee.