Hot Sleep, Cold Sleep

Sometimes you wonder if the federal government consciously does things to make you think it’s out of touch with reality.  Here’s one recent example:  the federal Energy Star program, which is jointly run by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, has come out with recommendations on how to operate your themostat during the hot spring and summer months.

setting-thermostat-82According to Energy Star, during spring and summer you should set your central air conditioning thermostat to 78 degrees when you are at home.  If you’re not going to be at home, you should set the temperature to 85.  And when you’re sleeping, you should set the temperature to 82 degrees — or higher.  That’s right — 82 degrees.  And, just in case you can’t make basic, practical decisions without federal government instruction, Energy Star also recommends opening the windows on cool nights to let cool air into your house, and closing the windows during the day so hot air doesn’t invade the premises.

According to Energy Star, every additional degree at which you set your thermostat produces a three percent decrease in your utility bill.  No doubt that is true — but has anyone at the Energy Star program actually tried to get a good night’s sleep in a house where the thermostat is set at a sweltering 82 degrees?  The quality of my sleep is directly tied to the temperature of the room where I’m sleeping.  If it’s above 69 degrees, I’m going to be spending a miserable night tossing and turning in hot, swampy sheets.  If it’s 69 or below — as occurs in Maine, where we don’t even have air conditioning and instead open the windows and sleep in delightful cool breezes — I’m much more likely to sleep soundly.  Trying to sleep in the Energy Star recommended 82-degree room would be a nightmare — except I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep to have the nightmare in the first place.

I can’t imagine trying to sleep in 82 degrees, or coming home to a house that where the internal temperature is 85 degrees, or higher.  It seems to me that enjoying the coolness, and getting a good night’s sleep in the process, is the whole point of air conditioning.  So thanks for the tips, Energy Star, but I’ll nix the 82-degree sleep setting, because to me a good night’s sleep is easily worth the additional utility bill cost.  In fact, I’m willing to pay just about anything for a few hours of uninterrupted, cool, peaceful slumber.

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The Sleepless Years

Here’s a conclusion from a scientific study that will shock anyone who has ever been a parent:  most babies don’t sleep through the night.  And the study also reaches another, equally startling determination:  most parents pay a lot of attention to trying to get their infants to sleep through the night.

Thank goodness we’ve got scientists around to confirm the obvious!

newborn baby cryingThe study found that 38 percent of babies that were six months old were not getting even six uninterrupted hours of sleep at night, and more than half weren’t sleeping for eight hours straight.  One-year-olds were only marginally better, on average, with 28 percent not yet sleeping for six hours and 43 percent not sleeping for a solid 8 hours at night.  The study also found that many parents worry about their baby’s sleeping habits, with mothers reporting feeling tense and depressed about trying to get their child to sleep through the night.   The researchers offered this reassurance for anxious parents, however:  after following babies from birth until the age of three, they found no material developmental difference between kids who slept through the night at a young age and those who took longer.

The study’s authors seem to attribute parental focus on their new baby’s sleep habits solely to developmental concerns.  I’m sure that some of the attention to infant sleep is attributable to reading the “baby books” about what is normal and what isn’t, but my personal experience teaches that at least some of it is naked parental self-interest.  When our boys got to the point of getting a good night’s sleep — which incidentally meant that Kish and I got a good night’s sleep, too — we felt like we had crossed the Rubicon and should be popping the cork on a bottle of champagne.  When a baby finally starts eating simple solid food (if you can call baby food “solid”) and falls into a sound sleep with a full belly, the mood around the house takes a decided turn for the better.

What’s up next for the scientific researchers trying to confirm what every parent knows?  A careful examination of the joys of changing baby diapers?

 

Thinking About Dreamland

Last night I slept very soundly, with lots of dreaming to keep my brain occupied while my body recharged.  I don’t remember what my dreams were — I almost never do — but I do remember thinking, as I was dreaming, that these dreams were very entertaining.

1100_story_babysleep_co-sleepingWhen I awoke, I thought about what a marvelous thing dreams are.   One second you are observing and participating in a curious, often inexplicable place where anything can happen at any moment and storylines can casually shift and twist and morph without it seeming at all unusual.  Then, after you awaken, your experiences in dreamland vanish in the blink of an eye and you’re back in the actual world where the laws of physics and basic linear reality once again hold sway.  Sure, you can have terrifying nightmares that give you the creeps even after you awake, but for the most part dreams are pleasant enough — nonsensical and crazy, to be sure, but non-threatening.

I found myself wondering whether my parents ever explained the process of dreaming to me.  I don’t remember whether they ever did, and I don’t remember explaining dreams to our kids, either.  Every mammal seems to dream — anybody who’s seen dogs run in their sleep knows that — and I remember watching our newborn boys’ eye movements as they slept in their cribs, knowing that they were dreaming and wondering what in the world infants could possibly be dreaming about.   By the time they were old enough to have developed the language skills needed to have a meaningful conversation about it, they had been sleeping and dreaming for years and had long since grasped the difference between dreamland and real life.  I suppose that’s why we never had a talk about the process of dreaming, as opposed to trying to interpret individual dreams.  Perhaps dreaming is so basic and reflexive for mammals, and humans, that it is understood on an intuitive level, with no explanation required.

In Control Of Your Dreams

Every human is deeply interested in their dreams.  Whether they are abhorrent or enticing, embarrassing or terrifying, dreams have their own unique fascination.  We fall asleep and suddenly images start playing in our brains, and we can’t help but wonder whether the dreams are sending us some kind of important message.

But there are two problems with dreams:  we can’t remember most of them, and we can’t control what we are dreaming.  When we have bad dreams we remain trapped in their frightening context until we wake up with a jolt, pulses pounding.  And good dreams inevitably end far too soon.

But what if we could control our dreams?  A recent study indicates that applying a low-frequency electrical current during sleep can generate “lucid dreams” — that typically all-too-rare state where the dreamer is aware she is dreaming and has control over the dream.  Study participants who received currents in the correct frequency range reported being able to change the plot of their dreams to avoid, for example, ugly encounters with a group of angry people.  The researchers hope to be able to use the process to treat mental illness or help people with post-traumatic stress disorder recover, by placing them in control of dream story lines that have happier endings than their actual experiences did.

It’s also easy to see how such a device could be used in other ways.  People who are afraid of public speaking, for example, could experience dreams where they confidently give a presentation that is well-received.  People who are struggling with the devastating loss of a loved one could consciously revisit that person as they sleep and realize that they are at peace.  And, because crass commercialization is the order of the day, no doubt people would gladly purchase dream-current products that allow them to experience close encounters with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, be the quarterback that wins the Super Bowl, or enter the world of Wuthering Heights.

There’s something intriguing about the concept of controlling your dreams, but also something dangerous. What if the human brain needs to have uncontrolled, often unpleasant dreams to work correctly?  After all, our current brains and their dreaming qualities are the product of millions of years of evolution.  And how many people might conclude that they prefer living in a rich, completely manipulable dream world to the harsh and uncontrollable world of actual reality, and spend their time dreaming their lives away?

Sleeping In

I’ve always been an early bird.

In our family, UJ was the great sleeper; he could sleep past noon if he wanted.  Not me.  I would awaken between 5 and 6, like clockwork, and trot downstairs to get the day started.   Once I was up, I was up.  That pattern continued into adulthood.

And so it was this morning.  The dogs were up even earlier than usual, jingling their collars, shaking their heads, and making that flapping sound that occurs when dog ears slap against dog heads.  So I was up especially early, feeding Penny and Kasey and going outside with them for our morning walk at about 3:30.

When we returned, the dogs went into dogsleep mode, and I thought:  if dogs can do it, why can’t I?  So I went back to bed, too — and to my amazement, I was able to fall asleep.  Even more astonishing, I slept until 8, something I probably haven’t done since college.  I dreamed pleasant dreams and awoke happy and refreshed.

This sleeping in thing isn’t bad.

Falling Asleep In The Noonday Sun

Yesterday afternoon I took my book and a glass of water with some lemon juice out to the back yard.  I plopped down on our outdoor furniture under one of our trees, balanced the water glass somewhat precariously on the cool grass, and began to read.

After some enjoyable reading, my eyelids grew heavy, as I knew they would.  I tried to fight the sleepiness by moving around, taking a few sips of the cold water, and squinting extra hard at the page before me.  But — as the Borg would say — resistance was futile.  My head nods became more and more pronounced.  After a few feeble attempts at staying awake, the buzz of the insects, the heaviness of the warm air, and the coolness of the sun-dappled shade finally got me, and I drifted off.

After a time the tweeting of the birds, the bark of a dog, or the cry of one of the neighborhood kids — I’m not sure which — caused me to slowly surface from my slumbers.  I’m not sure how long I dozed, but when I reached for my glass it was still cool and dotted with perspiration, and a tiny shard of ice cube floated on top.  I crunched the holdout ice cube with pleasure, stretched until my old bones cracked, and went back to reading.

What better way to celebrate the pleasures of summer than falling asleep in the noonday sun, stretched out in close proximity to nature, feeling the warmth on your face and the drowsiness overcoming you?

Sleeping To The Sounds Of The Lonesome Train Whistle

Kish grew up in Vermilion, Ohio, in a house located between two train tracks.  Because there are two tracks nearby, and because a lot of commerce in America moves by freight train, the lonely sound of train whistles and the rumble of passing freight cars are a part of every visit we make.

There is something comforting about the sounds of trains.  The train is far away when you first hear that whistle echoing across the countryside; the train politely gives you plenty of notice that it is on its way.  As the train approaches, the sound of the whistle changes and expands.  Soon you hear the throaty growl of the train passing by — and then the whistle gently recedes into the distance.

We don’t hear many train whistles in New Albany; I’m not even sure where the nearest railroad crossing is.  Curiously, however, the sounds of the trains don’t bother me when we are here or interfere with my sleep.  If anything, I sleep more soundly — and I think the trains, as well as the fresh air and the deep darkness, away from the light pollution of urban areas, may have a lot to do with it.