Sleep

Learning about sleep (RL281)

In the beginning of 2018, John has been trying to get 8 hours of sleep every night and focusing on that has turned out to be really good. He has been reading Why We Sleep by Dr. Matthew Walker who said that you can throw all those alternative theories about second sleep out the window and you are going to need 8 straight hours of sleep. Just trying it feels good! There are no losers in trying to get 8 hours of sleep. The book also tells John not to stress out about not going to get to sleep because when you are in bed and you go ”I have to wake up and I’m still not asleep” you are just spiraling in a cycle. John doesn’t do that, but being down on himself is a new thing for him.

The problem is obviously that he shouldn’t go to bed at 3am, which he and Merlin have been talking about since they first met. Think of all the stuff out there that you can only read at 2:45am: You are not going to read about the history of Welsh Rarebit at 2am! You also want to see what is happening on the markets in Korea and Shanghai when they open. People find it obvious to stop going to bed a 3am, but Merlin counters that habits die hard and you can't tell anybody to stop thinking of an elephant!

People are telling you your whole life that sleeping is just a habit: You have to get on a good one or you are doing it wrong, which implies the moral assessment that people who go up early in the morning are good, while people who sleep late or sleep too much are bad. The Platonic Ideal is that you wake up with the sun, you are productive all day, at night after a satisfying love-making with your significant other you turn over, lay down on your pillow, fall asleep immediately, sleep soundly for 8 hours and wake up without an alarm. The book is saying that our internal clocks are not on a 24 hour schedule, but it talks about a circadian rhythm that is slightly longer than 24 hours. We are always pushing against the edge of 24 hours but a lot of people’s internal clock is 15-20 minutes longer than 24 hours which is not linked to the sun at all. When you put people down in mine shafts for 2 months with no exposure to the sun, their circadian rhythm will still be the same. John has been saying this for years, but it is nice to have it validated. Dick Cheney can look forward to that, too (see section "John's imaginary Torture Chamber" in Dreams and Fantasies)! He is going to be very confused, because the sun is going to come up and down at extremely irregular times. You don’t hear much of him anymore.

One of the characteristics of REM sleep is that it paralyzes your body, making you a very bad hunter and very easy prey. From a tribal standpoint it makes sense that there would be some deviation of the population that stayed up and was naturally wakeful during the night instead of forcing themselves to stay on watch. They would sit around the fire while everyone else in the tribe can be asleep until the first early risers start getting up. John always feels like that kind of watchman, because nobody else in the neighborhood will put on a bathrobe and go out in the middle of the night (see RL7). Somebody has to scan the perimeter and while John is watching, y’all are paralyzed! He is watching over a culture of people who cannot move.

It is not true that you only need 5 hours of sleep or that you need less sleep as you get older. Everybody needs sleep their whole lives, but we don’t get enough sleep for various reasons and as we get older it is harder to stay asleep because there are tons on additional pressures, like having to go to the bathroom more. Over the course of our lives, our circadian pattern moves in the shape of the day. You don’t actually do your dreaming and your REM-ing in your deepest sleep. The REM-sleep is when you are paralyzed and your sleep tracker will register that as lack of movement, but your deepest sleep is the NREM sleep when your brain waves become very slow moving, while the brain waves of a REM-sleeper are indistinguishable from wakefulness. Your brain is hallucinating and living its life, while in NREM-sleep your brain waves slow way down like some EDM bass synths. You are not paralyzed, but your brain is somewhere else. REM and NREM are doing very different things in your head and you need them both.

After certain events in your life you need way more NREM sleep because your brain is moving stuff around. It doesn’t need to replay the conversation you had over and over, but it needs to move big boxes around. In REM-sleep you are moving things that happened recently into long-term storage, while in NREM-sleep you are actually doing serious body maintenance. You get that deep sleep early in the night and the REM-sleep comes later. If you only get 5 hours of sleep, you get some NREM sleep, but you are not getting REM-sleep and over time your memory will be depleted. If you need more REM-sleep, your body will find a way to get it, but it is not free. The body also needs a nap in the afternoon and Mediterranean style siesta cultures have dramatically less incidents of heart disease, not just because they are living on olives and hummus, but also because of the restorative benefits of sleep.

Every time John lays down at night he goes through a little journey: First he is immediately going to go 20.000 leagues under the sea to get all the deep sleep he needs. It is going to take the blue meanies out and the bring warm fuzzies in, it is going to take out the garbage, the compost and the recycling. Toward the end of the night when John is having some intense dream, he wakes up, flops around, and goes back into some dream. He was assuming that every time he remembered his dreams in the morning he was not getting the deep REM-sleep he needed, but now he realizes that REM-sleep is what happens at the end of the night. He is getting REM-sleep because he is having those fantastical dreams. Learning all that is helping John because he knows that his crazy bursts of dreams towards the end of sleeping is how it is supposed to be. Whatever is in the sleep is in the sleep! It makes John not resists sleep at night as much anymore. He doesn’t have nightmares and he doesn’t need to agonize over them, but he doesn’t like to be out of control and he doesn’t like the day to be over, it all feels like death!

The author of John's book is a sleep researcher. He is not political and he doesn’t have a dog in y’all’s race, but he is tenured at Berkeley and can do whatever he wants. He says that the world is crazy and letting kids go to school early in the morning is idiotic. Stores should be open until 9pm instead of being open at 8am. Nobody goes to stores in the morning, but people want to go to stores when they get off work! Why do we not do the sensible thing? School should start at 10am and you should be able to go to work at 10am. John is just eating this with a giant spoon! We should all be like Finland where they go to school 2 hours a day.

Getting up early (RW85)

For Dan, sleeping in means 6:30am, 7 days a week! His kids have night lights on a timer, not to wake them up but to tell them when they are allowed to come out of their rooms. If Dan can get them to stay in bed until 6:30am, that is sleeping in! Dan was the same when he was a little kid. His parents would put the TV on the channel where Ultraman and Speed Racer would come on so that when he woke up at 5:30am, he could just turn the TV on without waking them up (see Comics). John went to bed at 4:45am last night and had to get up at 9:45am, which is only 5 hours and not enough. At the time of recording the podcast he is already on his second cup of coffee.

John couldn’t join the crew team in college because he was always going to sleep right when they got up to go do crew. He really wanted to do crew and he has a build to do crew, his dad did crew, he loves the idea of crew, but for some reason they are morning practicers. The same was true for the swim team in High School: They practiced before school, what an insane notion! John was shortchanged his birth-right to be on a crew team, to be out there just rowing and feeling the water and the wind, but it just wasn’t in the cards for him.

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