The Sandman Cometh

Here is Solipsistic Seamus Sleeping Supine on a Chicago Sofa. [Say that 3 times, fast.] The topic is Getting Enough Shuteye (without further enriching the fat cats @ Big Pharma). He is your role model, not I. My expertise on this subject comes as much from personal experience, as from all the Sleep Hygiene lectures & literature I have absorbed over the decades, since I inherited the tendency for insomnia from the gent who also brought me Non-linear Thinking: my father.

Thus, I know that “better lifestyle choices,” while helpful, are not the complete solution. Unlike my father [for large parts of his life], I neither drink distilled spirits, nor smoke tobacco–both of which interfere with the brain’s natural circadian rhythm. Where I can control my nighttime environment [at home, not in hotels], I go for dark, cool & quiet. If quiet isn’t an option, I go for white noise [like a fan]. After you live in a big city for awhile, though, you become so used to the soundtrack of “the lullaby of Broadway” [emergency vehicle sirens, mostly], that it becomes the white noise; whereas those suburban or rural crickets make an infernal, sleep disturbing, racket. My family moved to Tarrytown, NY in 1953, just as the Tappan Zee Bridge was being built; and our white noise was the bang-bang-bang of steam pile drivers. On the rare days when work was suspended, “the silence was deafening,” and nobody could get to sleep.

But now for a little myth-busting. Contrary to what sleep-aid vendors would have you believe, mankind was not meant to sleep “8 uninterrupted hours.” There is meant to be a brief intermission in the middle of the night, for a bit of a walkabout: to do the needful (see to the children, visit the loo, stoke the fire, ward off ravening beasts). It is not so much this interval, but the sleeper’s negative response to it, that leads to most of the inconvenient [not awful] amygdalar arousal [known in the Sleep Hygiene biz as Subjective Insomnia]. We got fear: “Oh no! I’ll never be able to get back to sleep, and I’ll be useless tomorrow!” [Notice that this line of thinking occurs most often on a week night?] We got intrusion: “Gordon Bennet! Your snoring/that commotion in the street/my hypervigilant-not-to-say-paranoid dog just woke me up from a sound sleep!” [But your own alarm clock? Not always…] And we got the pain & suffering of just lying there [or prowling around in the dark, stubbing your toe, or worse], feeling all alone [even in a crowded house], and trying not to dwell on Dark Thoughts.

Well, here’s what I do about the Dark Thoughts. I have someone read me a bedtime story. Low-fidelity cassette tape players cost about $20 tops these days; and the public library is full of Books on Tape. I try to choose a narrator whose voice is pleasant, and a story that is distracting enough to derail my train of Dark Thoughts [but not so riveting that it keeps me up nights, ya know?]. I made a big mistake with a this week’s selection: the late Frank McCourt reading his own last book, Teacher Man. It’s wonderful [yet triste] to hear his voice again, but it’s too compelling; and I fought falling back to sleep [even though I knew I had the option of rewinding the tape in the morning and listening to it again in daylight]. This is rather ironic, since the main point of the book is McCourt’s career-long quest to hold the interest of his public high school students. [Well, he got mine.] I got about 3 hours’ sleep the night of Teacher Man; but, lo! I was still able to drive adequately, to scamper through the woods with Lili, to do hours of clinical paperwork, and [tra-la] to write this blog. [I loaded up a duller Book on Tape for the next night, though.]

More on sleep anon. Meanwhile, try out Seamus’ new yoga position: Flaked-Out Ginger Cat.

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Filed under altered states, limbic system

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