Tag: sleep

Wanted: Good Books on the Science of Dreaming

The emphasis here is on science. My understanding of current theories of why we dream, based on articles I’ve read in science-based publications like Scientific American, is that dreaming helps convert short-term memories to long-term memory. What I am looking for is a book-length treatise on the science of dreaming. It can be a history of the science: what we’ve learned from our first investigations down to the present; or it can be a book describing the current scientific theories on why we dream, and the mechanisms that influence those dream.

When I search for books on “science of dreaming” I get a lot of noise that seems to divide into two major groupings: (1) how to lucid dream; and (2) how to interpret dreams. I could care less about either of these. I’m not trying to become aware that I am dreaming when I am asleep and to take control and start flying around my dreamscape. Nor do I particularly care about how I might interpret what it is I am dreaming about. Given what I have already read about dreams, the latter is more or less meaningless, the brains reaction to firing neurons while committing memories to longer-term storage. What I want to know more about is the research and study that has gone into dreaming.

I am sleeping better than I used to, and I am grateful for that. But despite sleeping well, I wake from most nights feeling worn out from the endless parade of dreams that I’ve been having over the last several months. These are vague dreams, but they seem to be constantly in the background. I wake from them in the middle of the night only to have them resume after I fall asleep. They are not frightening, or particularly exciting, but they are exhausting and they take away from what could be a really good night’s sleep.

I understand (from what reading I’ve done about dreaming) that we all dream, even if we don’t remember what we dream about. What I am looking for is if there have been studies or research done on what external triggers might effect what I will call the “volume” of dreaming. What I’d like the be able to do is turn down that volume for a while. Ideally, I’d like to mute it. The dreams can continue in the background as they always do, but I’d rather not be aware of them for a while. I just want a good night’s sleep. I’d like to do this, of course, without the aid of any pharmaceuticals.

So, I am looking for books on the science of dreaming. Maybe I should be looking for books on consciousness more broadly, but I have a narrow focus here. So far, I have found two possible candidates: a book called When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep by Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold; and The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest by Penelope A. Lewis.

Does anyone have other recommendations on the science of dreaming? If so, please drop your recommendations into the comments. I’d be grateful.

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Reading versus Sleeping

There is a battle I engage in each night: whether to go to sleep, or read. I get up pretty early. Usually I’m awake between 5:15 and 5:30a, and I am out on my morning walk between 5:50 and 6:00a. During the summers, the kids don’t go to bed until 10p and I usually start to drag around 8p. If I could, I’d probably go to bed around 8p each night. Usually, I end up going to bed closer to 10p.

By the time I get into bed, I am usually tired. I have a small window in which I can fall asleep quickly and if I miss that window for some reason, it usually takes me much longer to settle down and fall asleep. The problem, for me, if the constant battle that goes on in my head between reading and sleeping. There is rarely a time that I don’t want to continue reading for as long as I can. At the same time, I can often feel myself slipping outside the boundaries of that sleep window. So: do I continue to read, knowing it will be difficult to fall asleep? Or do I set aside the book knowing I’ll fall asleep quickly and feel well-rested in the morning.

nightstand book stack

As much as I need a good night’s sleep, I almost always opt to continue reading. Usually, when I am on the fence, the thought that goes through my head is: At the end of my life, I’m not going to say, “I wish I’d slept more.” And then I imagine that I am on the verge of reading a book I’ve been looking forward to for a long time when the lights go out. That usually puts off sleep for a time. Some nights I’ll read for a while, and the book will keep sleep at bay. Other nights, I’ll get another 15 minutes before the laws of physics make it impossible for me to keep my eyes open any longer.

On some nights, much more rare, I just can’t put a book down. I’ll keep reading and reading, past midnight, past one o’clock, two o’clock… I know that I will regret this in the morning, but some books are just so good I can’t put them down.

Occasionally, I will give in to my need for sleep. I’ll get into bed with the thought that maybe I’ll read for a few minutes, and then reconsider, close my eyes, and be right off to sleep. Usually when this happen I tell myself that I’ll pick up the book first thing in the morning, or in the middle of the night, if I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. That never happens, probably because I am so tired from reading late in the first place.

When I really want to read, but am just too tired to keep my eyes open, I become envious of the “sleepless” in Nancy Kress’s “Beggars in Spain,” people who have been genetically modified so that they don’t need sleep. I wonder just how much more reading I could get done if I didn’t need to sleep between 6-8 hours each night?

Actually, it wouldn’t be that hard to estimate. Say it takes me 10 hours, on average, to read a book. And suppose that, by being sleepless, I could get in an additional 5 hours of reading per day. (I say 5 because even at my best, I can’t read for 7 hours straight without breaks.) That would mean an additional 35 hours of reading per week, or about 3-1/2 books. There are 52 weeks in a year so I would read an additional 182 books a year. Without that time, in my best year, I read 130 books. Usually I am for 100 books/year. Being genetically modified to not require sleep would increase my reading by 182%. If I lived to be 90, I might be able to read an additional 4,000 – 5,000 books in my life. Without sleep, that number jumps to an additional 7,300 – 8,300 books in the last 40 years of my life.

I know that people are wary of genetic modification, but being able to go without sleep sounds like a real superpower when I consider how much more reading I could do. I wonder if this is something Jennifer Doudna is looking into?

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Why Can’t Your FitBit or Apple Watch Pause Your Audio Book When You Fall Asleep?

Kelly is reading Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir for her book club. Actually, she is listening to the audio book version, narrated by Ray Porter, who does a very good job. The problem is, she says, she keeps falling asleep when she listens to it, and then has to go back and figure out what she last remembered hearing. I suspect this is a common problem, although it is not one from which I suffer. I do however, have a solution to offer that I am rather surprised has not already been tackled.

Lot of people use wearables these days. For a long time, I used a FitBit. And it seems to me that many people I know have Apple Watches on their wrists. (What would Douglas Adams have to say about our modern-day descendant of the digital watch?) Now, in addition to given us Jetson-like capabilities on wrists, these wearables do things that the Jetson’s never imagined. They can track how far we walk, how many calories we burn, our heart rates, pulses, and many other things. One of the things I found useful about my FitBit was its ability to track my sleep.

It seems to me that if my FitBit could tell me, based on a variety of biometrics, more or less when I fell asleep, then it should be able to use that same technology as a trigger to pause what I am listening to when it detects that I have fallen asleep. Imagine, you are listening to your audio book (or podcast, or music) and you begin to dose. The minute your Apple Watch detects that you are asleep, it pauses what you are listening to. It then uses its data to figure our how many seconds (or minutes) it needs to rollback whatever you were listening to so that when you awaken, you’ll be right where you left off.

This would be a useful integration feature for people who tend to fall asleep listening to books.

I could also imagine this integrating with devices like Apple TV, or other streaming services so that if your device detects you’ve fallen asleep during the latest episode of The Mandalorian, it will pause the show where you were last conscious of it, so that when you wake up, you can continue without skipping a beat.

I’m surprised that such a capability does not yet exist. Or perhaps it does and I’m just not aware of it. Of course, introducing a feature like this has its problems. I remember, for instance, that sitting still for a long time sometimes fooled my FitBit into thinking I was asleep. It would be annoying to be engrossed in listening to a book and have it suddenly pause because my wearable mistook my stillness for sleep. But these are solvable problems.

I suspect that a large number of tired, overworked, cooped up listeners would love a feature that automatically pauses their media when their wearable detects that they’ve fallen asleep. If nothing else, it would certainly help to improve the quality of book club discussions, what with people actually having listened to the entire book instead of sleeping through it.

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The Perfect Night’s Sleep

I don’t recall thinking much about sleep when I was a kid. Except for having to wake up early for school, which could be annoying, I rare had trouble sleeping. I put my head down on the pillow and drift off. There were occasional bouts of sleeplessness, but they were rare. I even have vague memories of taking naps when I was five or six years old. I close my eyes and the next thing I knew nap time was over.

Now I observe this behavior in the Littlest Miss. We lay down for our nap and we are both usually asleep within minutes. We put on some music, lay on the guest room bed, and she tucks her head on my shoulder. I usually wake up when the music ends, but she is still sleeping and always looks peaceful (although lately, also very sweaty).

It has been well over twenty years since the last really good night’s sleep that I can remember. It has become something of legend in my memory, the sleep to which all other sleeps are held up in comparison. It came at a time in the late 1990s when I was working long hours. During this particular stretch, I headed into the office one day at 5:10 am, and didn’t get back home until around 2 am. I was heading back to the office 3 hours later after a restless few hours of sleep, and finally made it home at 6 pm that evening. I remember going into my bedroom and flopping down on my bed thinking I’d rest for a few minutes before dinner. I awoke the next morning, fully refreshed. I had no dreams, and it wasn’t the instantaneous time-skipping sleep of anesthesia, either. I felt perfectly at peace, my mind clear, as if I was floating in a timeless, featureless space, until I woke up.

I’ve never had as good a night’s sleep since.

For the last 15 months or so, my problem has been actually falling into sleep. I feel tired, but I just can’t sink into unconsciousness. I hover above it sometimes for hours. It got so bad that I eventually told my doctor about it. I tried out about 3 or 4 different prescription sleep aids, and none of them worked. Eventually I gave those up. I gave up caffeine, too, which shows my level of desperation. My sleep improved, but only a little. I can fall asleep now, so long as I don’t miss my window. That is, I can fall asleep if nothing disturbs me during the windows when I feel most tired. But of course, with three kids, that never happens. Once I am stirred, I have a hard time getting back to sleep.

What I find particularly frustrating is the fact that I can fall asleep within minutes when I nap with the Littlest Miss after lunch. I don’t sleep long, but it amazes me how quickly I do fall asleep.

Lately, it has been better. I’m falling asleep faster, and staying asleep longer, but my sleep is always unsettled. I have strange dreams that seem to go on all night, and continue even if I wake up and head to the kitchen for a glass of water. I sleep, but the dreams themselves are exhausting. Now that I am writing again, the dreams have subsided a bit. That tells me, as I have always suspected, that my writing is an outlet for what goes in in my head.

Our kids like playing the game of “would you rather.” Often, it is something like, “Would you rather get a million dollars, or… fill in the blank.” I sometimes imagine them asking me, “Dad, would you rather get a billion dollars or be able to have the perfect night’s sleep each night for the rest of your life.” I wouldn’t hesitate in answering: “the perfect night’s sleep.” I know they’d be disappointed that I’d so quickly discard their substantial inheritance, but at this point, I think I would turn down a trillion dollars if I could be guaranteed a lifetime of nightly sleep like I had on that on night in the late 1990s.

Early to bed…

I left work around 3 PM, was home before 4 PM, took some NyQuil, and crawled into bed before 6 PM. I figured I nap for a few hours and then wake up, do a little writing, watch some TV, etc. Well, I just woke up–at 11:45 PM, 6 hours later. I’m not sure I can really get any decent amount of writing done at this point, but that’s okay, because I did manage to get a decent amount of rest. I just took some more NyQuil and hope to be back asleep again shortly. Maybe tomorrow the nasty portion of this cold will have passed.

I have to be up around 8 AM so that I can take my car into Saturn for routine servicing. But seeing has how I’ve already gotten 6 hours of sleep, and 8 AM is still more than 8 hours away, I think I’ll be fine.

A good night’s sleep

I finally managed to get to bed early last night and got a really good (meaning long) night’s sleep. The lights were out around 9 PM, and because I still can’t go to the gym because of my ribs, I didn’t have to get up until 5:30 this morning, which made for about 8-1/2 hours of sleep. And for a wonder, I slept well!

Kelly is back from her trip to Florida and we are having dinner after work tonight. I have a design review meeting today that goes from 4 – 6 PM so we’re meeting after that.

Incidentally, I’ve now watched the first 3 seasons of The Shield (it’s part of what’s been keeping me up later at night). I’ll probably pick up season 4 in the next couple of days.

Early in the morning

I’ve been getting to bed pretty early the last couple of nights. I was in bed before 8 PM last night and had the lights out an hour or so later. Also been sleeping with the bedroom window open because it’s been nice out, cool, but not cold. (Of course, today that might change–it will be close to 90 today and tomorrow and I may need the A/C again.)

I’m up early for the gym–cardio day–and I wanted to point out that just because I get up extremely early (4:20 this morning) doesn’t mean that it’s easy for me to do so. Friends at work seem to make this assumption. I actually woke up around 4:10 and I more or less stared at the clock for 10 minutes wondering if there was any way I could get additional sleep. When I realized that there was no way I could do that without forgoing the gym, my next step was to begin to think about when I would be able to sleep next–my lunchtime nap. I also thought about how early I would get to bed tonight. So what that it’s season premier week, that’s why I have Tivo, right?

And speaking of Tivo, yesterday I watched the Star Wars episode of Family Guy, which Tivo had recorded on my behalf. I’ve seen only one other episode of Family Guy–one that AJ insisted that I watch while visiting him and Denisse one day. But the “Star Wars” episode was rather hilarious.

Last night was quiet. I watched some TV, did no reading or writing and in general felt and acted lazy. I did call Andy and talked to him for a little while. He sounded pretty tired on the phone, but that’s what one would expect from someone with a newborn on his hands. I also spoke to Dad. And I played phone tag with Doug.

I’ve got to head over to the metro in a little while to catch my train into work.

Ah, fresh air

It’s been fairly hot and humid these past several weeks but it cooled off substantially yesterday and last night, I was able to go to bed with my bedroom windows wide open. It felt great to sleep in the cool, dry air. So much so that I really didn’t want to get up for work this morning, but as usual, I dragged myself out of bed before my alarm went off at 5:30 AM.

Lots of stars out at 5:45 AM when I headed out to the car. I don’t know why I don’t always notice that, but this morning, perhaps, the sky was so clear and clean and there was little surrounding ambient light, that the stars just kind of jumped out at you. Pretty cool!

Oh my god, it’s 4 PM on Tuesday!!

I’m feeling better, but still not 100%. I had the worst ear pain of my life in the decent into BWI this morning, to the point that I literally thought blood was going to ooze from my ears. It passed and hasn’t returned.

When I got home, I took some NyQuil and got into bed and slept. And slept. And slept. When I woke up it was almost 2 PM. I don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight. Now it’s already 4:15, the day is gone and I haven’t even gotten started. It’s a weird, disconcerting feeling. I’m behind in everything, including a thread of about 600 email messages involving Andy, strausmouse, kruppenheimer, and rmstraus. And these guys are supposed to be working today!

I’m hungry so eventually I need to eat something, but it won’t be here because I haven’t gone grocery shopping yet. I have laundry to do. I have other errands to run. I don’t know it it will happen today. Nevertheless, I expect to be okay to go into work tomorrow. We have a practice at noon on Thursday for softball. Playoffs is this coming Saturday.

Oh, while I was gone, I got shunn‘s chapbook, An Alternate History of the 21st Century in the mail. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’ve added it to my reading stack.

I’ve also finally updated my posts for the weekend. You can find them here, here, and here.

Long night

I went to be early last night and lights were out by about 9:30 PM, but it was still a long night. I fell right asleep, and slept well until about 1:40 AM. I woke up after a strange dream (involving a massive tidal wave that I barely escaped by climbing to the top of a building) and thereafter, had trouble getting back to sleep. It wasn’t the dream. It was just that I kept tossing and turning. I slept intermittently until about 3:30 AM and then I finally gave up, turned on the light, and read until 4:40 AM. At that point, I tried to get a little more sleep–and did manage to fall into a deep sleep. Alas, by 5:30 AM it was time to get up.

So, while I was in bed early last night, I didn’t get as much sleep as I had hope and I’m a little groggy this morning. I’ve got 3 hours of meetings today, beginning at 11 AM, so hopefully, I will be more awake by then.

24 hours

24 hours from now, I should be on the plane from Munich, Germany to Venice, Italy, an hour or so from my final destination.

I did manage to get a few hours of sleep. I had the window in the bedroom open because it was very pleasant out tonight, no humidity, and a nice breeze blowing earlier. I have some work to do, getting some wiki pages updated. I plan on grabbing a pancake breakfast at around 6 AM. I have a meeting that I have to call into at 11:30 AM, but it should only last half an hour. The car to the airport is picking me up at 1:30 PM and my flight departs at 5:51 PM.

Time to shower!


Hours since I have slept: 15

Several people have told me I’m going about this the wrong way. What I should have done, they say, is gone to sleep at 6 PM and gotten up at 1 or 2 AM. They are probably right, but what do I know. This is the first time I’ve ever crossed 6 time zones.

But because I trust the opinions of thse people, and because I’m a flexible, adaptable kind of guy, I’m going to make the most of their advice. I’m going to nap for a few hours. I’m setting the alarm for 2 AM, which will give me about three hours to nap. Then I’ll get up at 2 AM, log into work and finish up those items I need to get done before heading off to Europe (mostly updating some wiki pages on projects of mine so that people covering for me will have whatever is in my head).

I’m not ashamed to admit when I’m wrong. Especially when I am tired!