Monday, November 10, 2008

The Simpler Life and Sleep

Unless you've been hanging out on some remote island eating coconuts, you know all about the economic crisis. It's been called an economic tsunami, the perfect storm, and all kinds of other creative names. The country is scared. We're worried about getting the kids through college and having some kind of retirement fund when the time comes. Hey, we're worried about paying for groceries this week.

Television anchors and pundits are wringing their hands, placing blame, and pretty much increasing the anxiety of Americans. But surely there's an up side. Could it be our sleep?

Maybe this is a good time to catch up on your sleep. We all know the country is dangerously deprived of sleep. We know that on a macro level, when we read statistics about drowsy driving and industrial accidents. We know it on a micro level, when we're tired day after day after day. So, as part of the simpler life many of us are putting into place, let's sleep more. Stay out of the stores, buy less stuff, play with fewer toys. Sleep more!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Pity for Sleep-Deprived Presidential Candidates

I feel sorry for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. Oh, I now they're all wealthy and powerful and have willingly signed on to run for the presidency. Still, I would hate to be in their position of having every word scrutinized and criticized. They've all gotten into trouble because they've misspoken. Some more than others.

What we need to remember is that these folks are getting by on little sleep. We all say stupid things when we're tired. We are a tad ornery. Presidential candidates are only human, and they react the same way.

They don't get much sleep. At one time, McCain said he was trying to get five or six hours a night. Obama said his best Christmas gift was eight hours of sleep. I doubt he's gotten much lately. Jeremiah Wright is insomnia in a pastor's robe. The whole country has noted Clinton's fatigue in unflattering, bleary-eyed photos. Her husband even pointed it out to the media.

Politicians are sleep-deprived, no doubt about that. Bill Clinton said sleep deprivation caused some of the "edginess" in Washington D.C. He was notorious for only getting a few hours of sleep per night. Harold Dean's rambling shriek that cost him his presidential bid was blamed on sleep deprivation. Mike Huckabee (remember him?) blamed some of his problems on fatigue, stating he was down to four hours of sleep per night. Giuliani spent a night in the hospital because he was so exhausted. All-night campaigning toward the end of a campaign is a badge of honor for all candidates.

Given what we know about sleep deprivation - specifically that it impairs judgment and decision-making skills - wouldn't we all be better off if these people would go home and take a nap?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Need Two Bedrooms?

It happened again this week. I was sitting at dinner with a group of friends and they kindly asked about my book project. As we chatted about our book about couples sleeping together, the talk turned - as it always does - to our own sleep issues. It soon became clear that all of the women had problems sleeping with their partner, and several had abandoned the practice altogether. And, by the way, these are all women in long-term, happy marriages.

The main complaint? Snoring. Other complaints? Too much body movement and conflicting sleep schedules.

This is a little detail that never would have come out if I'd been writing a book about, say, the military history of Japan. But now I hear this all the time. That's one reason I love working on this project - it gives me a fascinating peek inside people's lives (or under their covers, as the case may be). We assume that all married couples sleep blissfully together at night, snuggled together, with no greater problem than cold tootsies. This just isn't true. In fact, many homes are now being built with two master bedrooms. Here's a link that'll give you everything from information about the topic to links and master plans for homes:

It's a fascinating trend. Is it just for the affluent who don't know what to do with all their money? Is this a crazy trend? Is it a movement inspired by homebuilders who want to make bigger and bigger homes? Or is it just smart?

The actor Michael Caine said the secret to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms. ( Maybe it's really separate bedrooms!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sleep and Depression

In the past three weeks, Robert and I have been to the Atlantic Ocean and to the Pacific. I like that. We went to New York for fun - and found it while exploring the city with two of our sons. We went to California so Robert could give a talk to marriage and family therapists about sleep and its impact on mental health.

Does sleep impact mental health?

There's only one reasonable answer. Duh. Otherwise, what on earth would Robert have spoken about?

However, most people don't think that way. We think sleep is another biological necessity to check off the to-do list. But in a country where millions of dollars are spent on antidepressants, maybe it's smart to think about how sleep affects our mental status. So, today we'll begin.

Let's start with depression, since it's so common. Here are some facts:

--Sleep deprivation makes depression worse.
--If a depressed person has insomnia, the depression is more severe and the risk of suicide is higher.
--People with insomnia are more likely to have repeat episodes of depression.
--Excessive sleepiness may be a symptom of depression, but more depressed people suffer from insomnia.
--People with sleep apnea or Periodic LImb Movement Disorder have higher rates of depression.

If you're depressed, you need to get help, and that comes in many forms -- medications, talk therapy, exercise, etc. But don't forget to get your sleep. It can help too. Share your experiences in this forum and tell us what's worked and what hasn't.

(By the way, if you're wondering whether you might be depressed, here's a link to a quiz at the website that can help you decide.)

For a brief discussion on how antidepressants affect your sleep, read this column:

Friday, April 4, 2008

Sleep and Lose Weight

The latest research on sleep is a stunner. It sounds like a late-night infomercial: Sleep more and lose weight.

Huh? It's this easy? Who knew? I thought you had to eat less food and exercise more. But wrong! Research says you need to get more sleep. (Here are a couple links to information about the research:,

Okay, now I'm mad. For years I've been playing the weight loss game. And, for the record, I used to weigh a whole lot more than I weigh now, though I've yet to be mistaken for Heidi Klum. I am not thin, or anything close to it, but I'm working my way down the numbers on the BMI chart, trying to get out of the red zone. I've worked at slowly changing bad habits and overcoming what my doctor calls a body that is built-for-a-famine because it's so stingy with the calories it burns. I've plowed through mounds of salads and vegetables and spent a small fortune on athletic shoes. And, I am continually trying to wrestle the evil twins of eating less and exercising more.

Now the researchers say I should have been sleeping more. They've discovered:

  • A correlation between lack of sleep and overeating, less physical activity and lower fruit and vegetable consumption
  • A direct link between sleep deprivation and weight gain
  • A decrease in serotonin levels in sleep-deprived people, which results in carbohydrate craving

I'm wondering if this weight loss technique can be retroactive. I missed a lot of sleep in college and during postpartum years. So, if I catch up now will the pounds melt away? Maybe if I go to bed right now and sleep for the next day or two, I'll wake up ten pounds thinner.

Hey, people have done lots stupider things to lose weight. So, maybe instead of lacing up my shoes and running to my kick-box class, I'll head back to bed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How Do People Stand to Feel This Way?

I am tired. Miserably tired. My head is fuzzy and I'm struggling to put thoughts together. My bloodshot eyes hurt and my eyelids feel like they've weighted down by invisible barbells. My legs feel like huge sandbags have been attached. My muscles feel like I've done four aerobics classes in a row.

I've been awake way too many hours. We've been in New York City this past week. We explored the sites from Harlem in the north of the city to Staten Island beneath its southern tip, and points in between. We ate so much New York pizza we're in danger of exploding. This morning, I left Manhattan at 4:30 a.m., or 2:30 Denver time. I've been up since then. It's not pretty.

How do people stand to feel this way all the time? Lots of people live in a constant state of sleep deprivation. All the time. They think the foggy head and sluggish body are normal. In fact, the latest National Sleep Foundation poll found that we get an average of 6.5 hours of sleep now. That's not enough.

We all know what we need to do to be healthy. Eat fruits and vegetables. Exercise regularly. Get regular medical tests. When we rattle off this laundry list, we rarely include getting adequate rest. This doesn't make sense. Getting enough sleep is way easier than getting mammograms or colonoscopies. It doesn't require the discipline of hitting the gym everyday or steaming up that broccoli day after day. It doesn't hurt at all, and in fact, feels good!

Do you get enough sleep? If not, why not? We'll discuss the reasons why it's difficult in our caffeinated, speedy, hyped-up, 24/7 society ... but not now. I've got to get some sleep.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Drowsy Driving Rant

Last week we read a brief article in Woman's Day magazine about what to do when you have to drive and you're sleepy. The magazine suggested that readers eat peppermints, drink coffee, and turn up the music on the radio.

Articles like this make us crazy. This advice is just plain stupid. It doesn't matter how many peppermints you eat or how loud the music is. If you're too tired to drive, you shouldn't drive. Period. End of sentence. Even caffeine can only give you a jolt for a couple hours (and that's if you're not used to it).

Here are the facts. If you are too sleepy:
--Your reaction time is slow.
--Your vision is not as sharp.
--Your brain does not process information well.
--Your judgment is impaired.
--You are at a much higher risk of crashing your car.

In fact, you are in the same shape to drive as if you're drunk. Drowsy driving probably causes about a million accidents per year, though the exact number is unknown because it's hard to tell whether sleepiness caused an accident.

To learn more about drowsy driving, visit Or, take this quiz about drowsy driving: To see the reality of drowsy driving, go to the Drowsy Driving Memorials site, at Look at the photos of people who are gone because somebody thought it was okay to drive even though they were tired. Maybe those drivers had been munching on mints and listening to the radio too.

It's heartbreaking to sit at the funeral of someone who's been killed because a driver fell asleep at the wheel. This happened in our family, and we'll never forget the grief-stricken faces of our nephew's parents, the weeping teenagers at his funeral, or the sight of a 16-year-old wearing his basketball uniform, a basketball at his side ... in his casket.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Three A.M. Insomnia

I do my finest worrying at 3:00 a.m. The night is dark. The house is quiet. Everyone in the house is asleep. Except for me.
My mind races wildly at 3:00 a.m. Last night, here are the thoughts that danced through my brain at 3:00 a.m.:
· When is the Visa bill due?
· How much of the Visa bill can we pay?
· Will it be cold tomorrow?
· How is our marriage doing?
· Did we spend enough time together this weekend?
· When is the Visa bill due? Gee, I wish I’d gotten a better check yesterday. What’s the balance anyway?
· How is son Devon doing at college?
· How about son Ethan at another college and is Bryce buying too many CDs?
· Why did I eat so much last weekend?
· How long have I been awake?
Okay, the answer to the last question was easy. I broke one of the sleep rules that says never look at a clock when you’re having insomnia. It’s a good rule, theoretically. The only trouble is, I don’t even need to look at the clock to know the time. It’ll be 3:00. Possibly 4:00, but probably 3:00. Rarely any time before 3:00 or after 4:00.
Last night I cheated and looked. Twice. Once at 3:00. The next time at 3:45. No sleep in between.
Most of my friends are familiar with the 3:00 a.m. witching hour. Maybe that’s because we’re all in those fuzzy peri-menopause years. One friend who’s into psychic phenomenon tells me 3:00 a.m. is the time when “the spirits” are the closest, when we’re most likely to receive inspiration.
I wish that were the case. I never receive inspiration at 3:00 a.m. Only fears, concerns, anxieties, stupid stuff. Sometimes the worries are real. I really do need to pay that Visa bill. More often, the witching hour magnifies my concerns and the next morning they seem ridiculous. Why did I spend one second wondering about weather, for heaven’s sake? It’s not like I can do anything about it.
Robert sleeps peacefully beside me as I worry. He says there’s no need for him to worry at 3:00 a.m. because I do it for him. I agonize about teenagers getting home safely; he snoozes. I worry about the bills; he sleeps. I fret over whether the dog got fed, who will win the presidential election, whether I can meet my writing deadlines, and the chocolate bar I ate in the afternoon. Robert sleeps. I’m jealous.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Writing a Book About Sleep

For years Robert has hesitated to tell people (especially on airplanes) what business he's in. He always said that when you told somebody you worked in a sleep lab, they wanted to talk in grand detail about sleep. They asked lots of questions ... about their own sleep, their kids', their spouse's. They wanted interpretations of their dreams and especially enjoyed discussing snoring and insomnia.

Since we've been working on our book, I've learned that he is right. (Don't all husbands want to hear their wives say that about something? At least once?) Whenever we mention that we're writing a book about couples sleeping together, whoever we're chatting with starts talking, and asking questions, and telling us about their time in bed. We've heard about the usual problems -- especially snoring. (Do you snorers have any idea how miserable you can make your spouse's night?) We've also heard about unique issues -- terrifying hallucinations of spiders before going to sleep, the feeling of being paralyzed upon awakening, and spouses who freak out when being touched during sleep. We've heard a lot about insomnia and fatigue.

We are thoroughly enjoying talking with people. And we want to talk to more folks. We've heard from some of you on our Pillow Talk blog at the National Sleep Foundation's website - (a great website, by the way) - and we'd love to hear from you on this blog. This is your chance to share your stories, complaints, and thoughts. To ask questions and raise issues. We'll do our best to search out answers.

Sleep is something we all do, yet it still holds an air of mystery. Scientists are just cracking the code on what makes us tick when we sleep. Join in the conversation and let's figure out how to make those eight hours in bed even better than they are.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who Are We?

Thirty years is a long time to be married. That's why not many people make it thirty years. Marriage is a bumpy road, no doubt about that. In August, we'll celebrate our thirtieth anniversary. Our marriage has lasted through three sons (who are now young men), three moves and job changes, three miscarriages, and a whole bunch of other stuff. We've made it through dirty socks and broken lawnmowers, hair-raising credit card bills, weight fluctuations (lots of them), family vacations, mortgage payments, and approximately 1,500 church meetings. We've slept together roughly 10,585 nights. Which brings us to this blog.

Robert is a sleep guy. I am a writer. We've written about sleep together and have become interested in couples sleeping together. No, not sex. There are hundreds of volumes written on sex. We're talking about sleep. When you think about it, even the most amorous couples spend way more time sleeping than sizzling. We're writing a book on the topic, Sleeping Together: A Couple's Guide to Sharing a Bed.

Don't stop reading! There's a lot of interesting stuff that goes on in the night. Marriages don't stop when a couple goes to bed. Some perfectly happy daytime couples want to kill each other at night. Couples have actually divorced over sleep issues. It's fascinating to talk to people about their sleep. Robert does this for his job. He's a polysomnographic technologist and the manager of a sleep disorders clinic (he's also a psychotherapist, so it all works together). He knows a lot about what happens to us when we sleep, how our brains and bodies react after we shut our eyes.

How do you sleep with your partner? Do you happily slide into each other's arms and drift off to blissful slumber? Or do you plot how you will kill the person snoring loudly next to you? Do you seethe at 3:00 a.m. when you can't sleep but your mate snoozes soundly every single night? And what about when your bed partner is making weird noises in his sleep? Do you wake him up? And how do you feel about your mate who you're pretty sure has a serious sleep problem and s/he won't get it fixed? The list goes on and on ...

The issues are huge and we're going to explore them all, in the blog and in our book. We'll talk about all kinds of other topics on the blog. After all, being involved with another human being brings up all kinds of issues. In the meantime, we'd love to hear about your nighttime experiences. We'd love to interview you, talk to you, help you learn to love sleeping with your husband or wife. Let us know how you're managing all the minefields of marriage, especially the
bedtime minefields. Let's join together for some pillow talk.