Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Zzzzzz

Luckily, I can count way higher than this!
My husband broke into my early a.m. stupor this morning with his offer to buy me an iPhone app.  Mind you, I don't have an iPhone, but he does.  And he revels in the almost daily opportunities to enhance his life (again!) with "the perfect app" for one of life's persistent problems.

The handy little gadget he thought would light my fire today is called Sleep Cycle.  I found its description (app-tly) at a site called Gizmos for Geeks (Motto:  Whoever Has the Most Toys Wins).  What does it do?
The Sleep Cycle alarm clock is a bio-alarm clock that analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase.  Waking up in the lightest sleep phase feels like waking without an alarm clock - it is a natural way to wake up where you feel rested and relaxed.  Since you move differently in bed during the different phases, Sleep Cycle uses the accelerometer in your iPhone to monitor your movement to determine which sleep phase you are in.  Sleep Cycle then uses a 30 minute alarm window that ends at your set alarm time and wakes you in your lightest sleep phase. 
The gentle alarm aspect might be kind of nice, except that I'm betting that my "lightest sleep phase" probably has little to do with when I need to get up in order to be where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be there.  But okay, there's the "30 minute alarm window," so that might work.  

But the scary part was where my spouse attempted to get me excited about the prospect of "graphing my sleep patterns," and worse, analyzing same.

I am extremely wary of trying to analyze, or even of paying attention to something that has given me so much trouble in the recent past.  (See "Done for the Week:  Clearing Another Hurdle;" "Putting Myself to Bed," and other sleep-related posts to gauge the depth of my obsession with somnolence.)  I guess I'm kind of superstitious about such things, but it's like I can coexist reasonably with the little sleep gremlins in my life. . . unless they know I'm looking at them.  And then, all hell breaks loose.  So thanks, but no thanks.  I don't want some device alerting these unruly guys that they've penetrated my consciousness in any way.

But why am I babbling about sleep again?  Because it is the subject of the eleventh chapter of Marshall Cook's Slow Down . . . and Get More Done, entitled "Things That Go Wrong in the Night."  Though he doesn't spell it out, Cook seems to be asserting that adequate sleep is an important element of the slowing down that he holds will cure our speed sickness, thereby increasing our ability to focus, to choose how we want to spend our time, and to have the equanimity to get done the things we care about.  

Maybe it's because the book itself was written somewhat before the recent deluge of "new information" about sleep--and before my years of parenting two small idiosyncratic sleepers.  Maybe it's because I have read a lot of such bulletins and guides and sleep improvement programs.  But I don't feel like I learned a lot that I didn't already know from this chapter.  

Of interest, though, was Cook's claim that "Everybody has a little sleep apnea" but that "For most of us, the episodes are short, infrequent and harmless."  I have long suspected that all those charming little self-suffocation machines sprouting at the bedsides of friends and family are like medical hula-hoops.  I don't know anyone who has submitted to a "sleep study" and emerged without one.  Three blocks away from my home is a retail outlet with a neon label in its window declaring it to be a "CPAP Store."  But when I drive past at the speed I generally do, it always looks to me like a sign for a "CRAP Store."  

Cook also has a number of interesting things to say about how "sleep experts" account for dreaming.  He begins with this description:
Suppose you're in the middle of a sound sleep when suddenly your entire central nervous system goes haywire.  Extreme physiological changes turn you as cold-blooded as a lizard.  Your brain blocks out all external stimuli.  If someone were to set off a bomb under your bed, you probably wouldn't even feel or hear it.  Your brain then disables your motor system by shutting a little gate at the top of your spinal column, paralyzing you so that even if you did hear the bomb, you wouldn't be able to get up and run away.  
Then your brain starts hallucinating, creating scenes ranging from fairly realistic depictions of everyday life to nonsensical dramas and horror movies.  
In such a state, in the words of sleep expert Dr. Steven Weber, "all the physiological laws get thrown out the window."  It is, Weber says, "a bizarre state of being."  
Another exotic sleep disorder?  Hardly.  We call this state "dreaming," and you enter into it three or four times a night.
No wonder I have trouble sleeping!

He passes on Dr. William Dement's view that "dreaming is your chance to go safely insane."  Dreams are variously thought to serve as 

  • psychic release or safety valve
  • window on the psyche
  • data processing system
  • random brain babble.

As to how much sleep we should be trying to get, Cook advises that this seems to be highly individual, though 
many of us in this hurry-up Age of Anxiety cheat ourselves of sleep and are probably sleep-deprived to some extent.
Our bodies, Cook says, can tell us whether we are getting too little or too much sleep.  If we are falling asleep during meetings, movies, or long drives, we might safely conclude that we could use a bit more pillow time.  (When my last two children were small, I regularly experienced falling asleep while reading aloud to them.  They would wake me and report that what I had just "read" made no sense.)  Conversely, if we are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, we may be sleeping too much.

The part of the chapter that I found most redundant was the summary of "sleep hygiene" tips, including:

  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol
  • Don't get hooked on sleeping pills
  • Keep regular meal times
  • Stick to regular bed and wake times, seven days a week
  • Exercise
  • Don't worry about it

Finally, Cook recommends "a personal sleep assessment" for those of us who are having difficulty with sleep.  In addition to the information that nifty little iPhone app would provide, we are urged to (neurotically, in my view) 
keep a sleep log for a few weeks.  Note everything you eat, drink and smoke and when you eat, drink and smoke it.  Also log any naps, planned or otherwise, and their length.  Note what time you go to bed each night.  In the morning, record how long it took you to get to sleep, how many times you awoke in the night and how long you slept. . . . [and] at the end of each twenty-four-hour cycle . . . comment on the quality of your sleep and your general sense of well-being the following day.  Also note any outside factors that may have affected sleep, such as unusual stressors at work, the shock of a phone call in the still of the night, or the introduction of two Persian kittens into your sleeping environment.
Then we should identify patterns, introduce changes gently and gradually, all the while continuing to keep our log.  

I'm tired just thinking about it.

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