Communion Of Dreams


Sleep is the default.

It’s now been three months since Martha Sr died.

You’d think by now that I’d be caught up on sleep. You’d be wrong. As I look over the last few month’s posts I note that time and again that I mention sleep. It is still the default that I want more, more, more. Even when I’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, and am not fighting any kind of cold or flu, a nap in the morning or afternoon tempts me. For someone who thinks of himself as energetic, productive, it kind of goes against the grain. For someone who has a backlog of work running to years, it can be a little maddening.

Yet, sleep is still the default.

* * * * * * *

My sister called the other day.

Thirty pounds?  Wow. Be careful.”

I assured her that I wasn’t trying to overdo anything. That it was just my body moving back towards a natural set-point, as mentioned in that blog post.

But she has a good reason to be concerned: in our family, weight loss is one of the markers for the onset of the family genetic curse, Machado-Joseph disease. To be honest, this is one of the major reasons that I have always felt a little comfortable in being a bit overweight – it provided some sense of protection against the disease (which was very poorly understood or even known as I was growing up). That’s not how it works, of course, but it was always there in the back of my mind. If you’d lived with seeing what the disease does, you’d be willing to risk obesity, too.

* * * * * * *

Go back to any of the entries from last year under the tag Alzheimer’s, and you’ll see that one of the most common things I talk about is just how tired I was. For years – literally, years – my wife and I had taken turns being “on call” each night, lightly dozing while listening to a baby monitor in Martha Sr’s room. On those nights you’d barely get anything which amounted to real rest. When you weren’t “on call” sleep usually came, but wasn’t as easy or restful as it could have been – having your partner there more or less awake next to you all night wasn’t that conducive. Sure, there were naps whenever we could squeeze them in, but I would still say that my average sleep per 24 hour period was probably about 5 hours, maybe 6. Things did improve once we had a health aide three nights a week, but by then we were in hospice care, which had its own stresses and demands.

* * * * * * *

ATLANTA – People who sleep fewer than six hours a night — or more than nine — are more likely to be obese, according to a new government study that is one of the largest to show a link between irregular sleep and big bellies.

* * *

The research adds weight to a stream of studies that have found obesity and other health problems in those who don’t get proper shuteye, said Dr. Ron Kramer, a Colorado physician and a spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“The data is all coming together that short sleepers and long sleepers don’t do so well,” Kramer said.

The study released Wednesday is based on door-to-door surveys of 87,000 U.S. adults from 2004 through 2006 conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Surprise, surprise.

* * * * * * *

I’ve got a pretty strong work ethic. And it was shaped by conventional standards: get up, go to work for 8 -10 hours, come home. That’s not how I work – hasn’t been for years – but it is still the baseline instinct for me, the initial criteria I use for whether or not I am “getting things done”. So it is frustrating to feel sleepy and want a nap. That doesn’t pay the bills, get the backlog under control, get the next book written or the ballistics research written up.

Three months. Seems like a long time. And our culture doesn’t understand grief well, nor leave a lot of room for recovery that takes time. We expect people to “get over it”, to take a vacation and come back refreshed. It is part of who we are – part of who I am.

But I try to listen to my body. It is naturally shedding the excess weight I put on, now that regular sleep and exercise are again part of my life. Realistically, it is only halfway done – I’ve another 30 pounds or so to go to get back to a point which I consider ‘normal’ (though that’s still about 20 – 30 pounds heavy for me, according to the ‘ideal’). Does that mean I have another three months of wanting naps all the time? Yeah, maybe. Maybe more. I’ll try and give it that time.

I’ll try.

Jim Downey


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And our culture doesn’t understand grief well, nor leave a lot of room for recovery that takes time. We expect people to “get over it”, to take a vacation and come back refreshed. It is part of who we are –

I wonder when we had the shift from long grief periods to “get over it.” Even in the early 20th century, people were expected to mourn for a year or more if a close relative died (widows might mourn for two and a half years, moving through formal stages from full mourning to “half-mourning” ) and mourning was virtually a culture unto itself. I get the impression that this changed around the Roaring Twenties, although place-to-place it might be different. Today there are still vestiges when people criticize widows and widowers for dating before the year period is over.

In some religions, you still have the longer periods. In Judaism, close family members are expected to mourn for a year after the initial thirty days of mourning and prayer have closed. The very Orthodox give up all entertainment and pleasure for that year, when they are supposed to focus on the person who died and adjust their lives to the loss.

I wonder if the prevalence of psychotherapy and the modern attitude of “talk to someone, take a pill, you’re done” has something to do with it.

Comment by ML

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