Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sleep Fanatic

Almost immediately after giving birth to Theo, I became passionate about sleep. Feeling well rested while pregnant was a challenge what with the exhaustion of growing that wee thing, so much energy spent throw (and not throwing) up, and finding a comfortable sleeping position. But that in no way prepared me for several essentially sleep free nights while birthing the child and "resting" at the hospital. Just to come home to the world's most compelling baby parties - all hosted by Mr. Cutie himself from 1-4 am. Throw in the sudden development of watermelon sized breast and physical postpardum complications, and I found myself Very Intersted in sleep.

FlyLady introduced me to the book The Promise of Sleep by William Dement when Theo was about 4 months old. I spent days sitting on the couch nursing him and letting him sleep in my arms so that I could devour this book. Here is what I learned.

Our health is dependant on getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep inhibits the production of prolactin and melatonin, which deranges our immune systems. This leads to depression, heart disease and cancer. Our personal safety is also dependant on getting enough sleep. As we wander into the zone of not-enough-sleep, our performance goes down. Our ability to perceive what is happening decreases, and just as alcohol impairs our response time, lack of sleep slows our reflexes to the point of being dangerous. Think driving cars, operating heavy machinery, awareness that your toddler has climbed onto the stove here.

How much sleep is enough sleep? I know plenty of people who say they function just fine on 5-6 hours of sleep. When sleep researchers allowed people to sleep without interruptions of everyday life and in very dark environments, regulating their own sleep, they normalized at somewhere between 7 hours 45 minutes and 8 hours 15 minutes. When we don’t get the 8 hours of sleep, our bodies record it. Sleep researchers call it “sleep debt”. Now, it turns out we need 10-15 hours of sleep debt in order to fall asleep, which is essentially a day’s worth of awakeness. But once we build up more than 25 hours we start to show the symptoms of impairment. As people slept in the very dark, non-alerting environment create by the researchers, they started paying off their sleep debt by sleeping 10 or 11 hours a night. The most sleep debt recorded was 120 hours – that’s 5 24 hour days or 15 full nights of sleep! Once the old sleep was paid back, they began waking after the 7h45m to 8h15m I mentioned before.

Interestingly, almost nobody with a large amount of sleep debt describes themselves as tired. Sleep deprivation “symptoms” mostly present themselves as lack of motivation, apathy, and irritability. Extremely sleep deprived people describe themselves as “worn out,” “exhausted,” or “depressed.” But somehow we don’t feel tired. My interpretation of what I’ve read is this: as we get used to functioning on too little sleep, our bodies go into a sort of crisis mode and don’t send us the strong sleep signals anymore. If you think big, this is a good plan. Pre-electricity, most humans went to bed with the sun, woke up with the sun. If our predecessors were up all night, it was very likely because there was some crisis. One of the last things you need while moving to higher ground to escape flooding or moving to a different geographical location so the newly arrive family of sabertooth tigers won’t consume your family is to feel constantly exhausted. So our bodies surpress the tiredness. That’s all good and well, but once we start getting enough sleep and eventually tapping into that sleep debt (which our bodies read as “crisis averted”), the exhaustion signals come flooding back. After a week or two of not sleeping enough, most people feel awful after a 10 or 11 hour sleep. I was always told I had slept too much, but it is actually called “sleep inertia”.

So what about the people who say they do just fine on very little sleep? Well, two things. My first question would be to define “fine.” Do they have a joyful experience of their days? Are they functioning at high levels of creativity and motivation? Are they easily able to be emotionally responsive to those around them, full of understanding and compassion? Are they hopping themselves up on coffee or other stimulates so they don’t feel the effects of their tiredness? Are they physically healthy – not just free of colds, but full-physical-check-up-healthy, with appropriate blood pressure, weight or lean body mass, hormone levels and glucose levels? Lack of sleep is clinically documented to affect all those things. My next question would be to ask if they are making up that sleep somewhere else. Albert Einstein is famous for only getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night, but most of us don’t know that he usually took a couple of two hour naps a day and his servants were under strict instructions not to wake him until he woke himself.

The truth is that very few people in our country get enough sleep. And many of us are parents of small children. So how do we get enough sleep?

First of all, we can keep our “baseline” sleep debt low.

  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour. I struggle with this everyday, there is so much to do in the world: evening outings to attend, movies to catch, web sites to surf, blogs to read, dishes to do and toy disasters to clean up. The temptation of just a few more minutes of me-time after the kids have gone to bed is huge. But do the math. If you need to wake up (or will be woken up) at 6 am, you need to be asleep by 10 pm. Nursing moms can usually count on waking up to nurse for at least 30 minutes every 2 hours. In the pursuit of an 8 hour sleep, that’s 2.5 hours of awakeness, and it needs to be factored into our bedtime math. Honestly, if your 2 year old is going to wake you up at 6 am and you have a 4 month old, you should be in bed by (take a deep breath here) 7:30 to get a full 8 hours of sleep.
  • Eliminate the sleep debt you currently are holding. Every day for a week or two, go to bed an hour earlier and/or take a nap. I know from experience that at least one sleep crisis is going to occur here in the next month – Bill and I WILL stay up and watch the several episodes of Studio 60 he has ready (hopefully not all at once), Rosie’s working on getting new molars, and we’re about to travel to Texas. All of these things will cut into my sleep by several hours. If I’m doing okay for sleep, I can handle the tiredness with aplomb and make up the few hours quickly and easily. If I come into those situations hurting for sleep, I’m going to come out of them a grumpy, ineffective person. And it shows in my parenting first and biggest.

Secondly, we can have a plan for recouping from sleepless nights.

  • If you the first time parent of a newborn or if you are sick, keep going back to bed until you’ve gotten 8 hours, even if it means starting your day at noon.
  • Go to bed early.
  • Go to bed with your kids. This is the part, again, where I take a deep breath, walk away from this dishes so I can cuddle down next to those warm little bodies that sooth me to sleep so quickly. What I’ve learned is that in going to bed with them, I usually get the 10-11 hours of sleep they do. After a few days of this, instead of them waking me up at 7 am, I start waking before them around 5am. Then I have glorious quiet time in the morning to clean up the abandoned kitchen, start breakfast, work out or look at my email. Sometimes I even chat with my husband! It works so well that I often consider making it my daily routine, but apparently I haven’t been willing to completely let go of my nightowl ways, yet.
  • If you you’re going on a trip where the time changes will work against you, go to bed an hour early for several days before you leave.
  • Have an escape route for one parent. When kids are struggling with sleep, they are usually loud. For our family, it works better to have Bill go sleep in another room and wake up refreshed. Usually, he can wake up with the kids and feed them while I get at least one hour of extra rest. Even if he can’t do that, come dinner time there is at least one parent who is relaxed and available to the kids.
  • If you’re a single parent, find a buddy who understands the need for sleep who can come over or take your kiddos while you nap. Have some meals in the freezer so you can do quick dinner prep and clean up and still go to bed with your baby.
  • Take naps. Sleep with your babies. Set up a post-lunch play date so you can sleep if you have non-napping kids. Bring a camping mat to your office. A 45 minute nap improve alertness for 6 hours. Objective studies show that even if a napper doesn’t feel better after their rest, performance is markedly improved. Again, be prepared for about 15 minutes of “sleep inertia” after waking.

Great, sleep is good, sleep is important. As adults we understand all of these tidbit and factor them into our computations of how to lead long, healthy lives. But come on, we have lots of researchers tell us what healthy things we should be doing about lots of areas of our live. We can’t do it all, right?

Maybe. AND, as a mommy I think I have a moral obligation to get enough sleep. My children need me.

  • My children need me to be healthy and live for a long, long time. I can’t do that if I’ve allowed sleep deprivation to wreak havoc with my body.
  • My children need me to be able to respond to them with gentleness: to see them, hear what they are really saying, to be full of love and compassion for who they are right now in the moment. I have learned through hard, hard experience that I cannot be any of those things when I am beyond exhausted and swimming in the irritability and even rage that comes with that.
  • My children need me to be joyous, creative and motivated. Positive discipline, home schooling and just plain everyday life all work much better on 8 hours of sleep than 5.
  • My children need me to model a happy, healthy life for them. If I want my children to be healthy and happy full functioning adults, I need to show them what one looks like. Making the effort to be well rested and talking about the whys and hows with my children gives them the tools and understanding they need to be well rested themselves.
  • My children need me to have healthy, joyous relationships with other adults. Last time I checked, my husband didn’t really like me nitpicking his casual conversations, finding fault with the minutiae of his movements or snapping at him as a regular mode of conversation. Neither does my extended family or friends. I need sleep to be kind and connect with everyone around me. And I need everyone around me as much as my kids need me.

I love my kids, I love my husband and I love my life. So I get my sleep. I hope you will, too.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Playing pictures

In this digital age, we seem to have loads of photos hanging out on my computer. Here are some of my favorites from the past month.

With all these lovely curls, a daily ritual around here is Rosie's hair. Here we are cheesing after she is all combed out!

I love how this picture captures Rosie's bright eyes.

Look, ma, no tooth! Theo lost his first tooth on January 11th. He swallowed it while eating an ice cream cone at Ben and Jerry's. Note the Berry Berry Extrodinary and Triple Carmel Chunck framing the missing tooth.

Turns out Theo doesn't really like cake, so he was completely happy with frosting carrot from Bill's birthday cake. That one carrot was eventually supplimented with additional frosting.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

More Brain in Overdrive

The other part of my brain is deep in the process of revising the Classical Education model’s curriculum. There is much that is deeply inviting to me about the model, but I think it has one giant flaw: it is wildly Eurocentric. Now, if you’re of European descent that might be fine. Learning history, art, math, music through the filter of our dominant culture supports who you are and boosts your confidence of your place in the world. But imagine for a moment that you aren’t of European descent and everything you learn comes through the Classical model. Almost everything you are taught is important in the world and important to the world comes through the cleverness of white folk. And when do the people who look like you show up? Suddenly in the early 18th century as slaves? The mid 1800s as Chinese railway workers? Pearl harbor as the enemy?

Honestly, the reason this is at alarm state in my brain is Rosie. Were all our children of European descent, I’m sure this would show up as a challenge to include other cultures into our studies a bit rather than hyperventilatingly important. But, I want her to grow up having great pride in who she is and her cultural roots. I don’t want her to see herself as a just a descendant of African slaves, but as someone whose genes include the ingenuity, power and intellect of great civilizations. Which means the whole model is broken for us.

So here’s what is brewing. I like the Classical model’s format of breaking studies into chunks of time around the world and then visiting those time periods in increasing levels of depth as the children develop and mature. I really like the idea of 4 cycles, revisited 3 times. I think this means I’d like to stick with cycles: Ancient (pre-5th century), Medieval (5th century until the 16th century), Modern times (16th century to now), and American history. Of course, we can’t call the Medieval time Medieval because that’s a European division of time. But it seems to me that each civilization has a cycle, so following the ebbs and flows on the different continents I’m hoping this would break out to something like those periods.

Within each civilization there are specific areas that are interesting and valuable for us to study. Of course there is the standard literature, art, basic history. Geography and food play an interesting part in the growth of civilizations. Religion and type of government play a huge part of how and why these civilizations came about, survived and declined. And… much to my shock, different civilizations had different maths. Different ways of counting and classifiying. (I figure I am supposed to know this and some poor teacher tried to communicate the idea to me, but somehow that never even began to sink in.) Each time period has it scientists and medicinal gurus. And of course, weapons. I’m sure we’ll be studying in depth the types of weapons made and used across the ages and continents.

All of this sounds well and great in theory. But a quick 10 minutes looking up Ancient Civilizations on the web yields TONS of really interesting pages about all sorts of things ancient. It is overwhelming to say the least. Somehow I have to prioritize a few cultures over the rest because we can only cover so many in a year, and my primary values in examining them are helping us define who we are today. In an attempt to keep life simple and home schooling easy, there is something to be said for accepting the cookie cutter version of what is out there. But, as usually, I also think there is a deeper importance of seeing each of my kids for who they are and creating a world of information for them that supports all they can be.

I think I feel another spreadsheet coming on!

Brain on Overdrive

I woke up this morning with my brain on overdrive. It’s one of the side effects of going to bed with the kids at 8pm for 5 nights in a row – eventually the sleep deprivation goes away and the grey matter starts chugging away.

One part of my brain is focused on rotation diets. I have devised this elaborate, but fairly simple 7 day rotation diet for our family to follow, mostly to help Theo’s body and neurology. The standard recommendation for a rotation diet is 4 days (because apparently it takes about 4 days for any toxins generated by an allergic reaction to clear from the body). At least for our family, 4 days is too complex because it is essentially random. How on earth do I remember if today is day 3 or day 4 and which foods are allowed on that day? Whereas with a 7 day rotation, we all easily get that Tuesday is freshwater fish day, Wednesday is pork day, Friday is chicken day. It turns out there is just one small problem with the 7 day deal – there are not really that many botanic food families. So on any given day the picking can be a little slim.

Here’s my model so far. (gotta love Excel)

What I need to know at this point is how much leeway do we have within a given food family. I know the nightshades are non-negotiable, you can’t have them 2x in a 7 day period and cleanse the toxins (because that would make it 3 and 4 days between them). But what about the “cattle” family? Do I really need to have beef, lamb, goat all lumped into one day or can we have one day eating beef and another eating lamb? In the end, I suppose it all depends on how Theo and my bodies deal with it, but I’m sure there is a rotation diet guru out there who can give me a pretty educated guess as to how strict we need to be.

A subset of the rotation diet part of my brain is trying to work out this week’s grocery list. Because it turns out that just identifying healthy foods for our bodies to eat isn’t enough. Some how those foods have to morph into nutritious delicious meals that the whole family can and will consume. With Bill and I on the 20/20 program from the ProSports Club, this also means eating particular types of foods are prescribed times. Which requires a whole new spreadsheet.

Friday, February 2, 2007

World Class Departure

Thursday I had world class departure with the kids. Truly award winning.

We were at the ProClub. Our routine is I work out for an hour with a trainer while the kids eat lunch and play at the day care. Then we all go swimming. We all know it and we all look forward to it.

Things went according to plan until we got to the locker room to change into our swim gear. The kids , now in their suits, started bumping and jostling each other and arguing about who gets to use my card to lock their locker. I gave them the usual reminder that being out in public requires appropriate behavior and has to be fun for everyone, including me and everyone else in the locker room.

They each sat down and ate about 3 bites of the lunch they neglected because they were too busy playing in the daycare. And then they dissolved into an all out slug-of-war over over the swimming toys. I call it a day and in my most pleasant voice announce that we're leaving.

Immediate screaming ensues. Rosie does her fire-engine loud wail accompanied by super fast feet pounding. Theo starts yelling how stupid I am. My calm request to put on shoes is met by Rosie running back and forth (still wailing) between me and the door to the pool while Theo starts throwing things at me. After a 2.5 nanosecond evaluation of the situation, I put on my shoes, and stuff all their clothes and our various other sundries into my swim bag.

Now I'm ready to go, but still have two swimsuit clad, screaming children, my purse and a heavy, overstuffed bag hanging off my shoulder. I scoop up Rosie and summon my most calm and firm voice to tell Theo, "I'm leaving now and I expect you to come with me." And suddenly we're in a hallway full of people. Rosie's still screaming, Theo's still recounting how stupid I am, and for emphasis starts punching the bag.

Luckily, someone walks by with a cart full of boxes and boxes of tennis balls. Rosie's need to understand why sucks her out of her misery. Now I'm down to two bags, one heavy (but no longer screaming) 3 year old, and the still yelling, punching 6 year old. Finally we make it to the front door, at which point, Theo's blows knock the bag off my shoulder, spilling shoes everywhere.

As I bend over to reload my bag, I look up to notice a shuttle full of people unloading at the front door, just to see both the president and the CEO of the ProClub looking in bemused wonder at my kids. Sigh.

As a last hope, I ditch the shoes and the bag at an outdoor bench, shift Rosie to the other arm, and do my best to firmly yet gently capture and elevate Theo's punching hand and march to the car. Magically by the time we get to the car both kids are calm and quietly climb into their carseats.

One last thing to do: drive around to the front door to retrieve our abandoned items. Just as I grab our things to load them into the car, a woman with a 5 year old stops me. I'm thinking, "uh-oh, here comes the 'how could you treat your kids like that' lecture" that I figure everyone else was thinking. Instead she tells me how very impressed she is with how I handled the whole misadventure and that it is moms like me that inspire her to be more for her daughter.

Like I said, world class departure. With a silver lining.