A Wake-Up Call: Let’s Talk about Sleep!

Does this sound like an odd topic for a blog about my journey as a reader and a writer? Please keep reading.

Just as reading The Bill of Obligations, by Richard Haass, prompted me to dedicate an entire blog post to that one book a couple of weeks ago Taking a look at The Bill of Obligations, by Richard Haass, I’ve since read a book that deserves its on post:  Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.

This is a fascinating book! Who wants to read about sleep? We all should. Most of us don’t get it right. I’ll just hit on some of the highlights or items I found most interesting – or frightening – in the book.

Studies have proven that humans need eight hours of sleep a day. The last two hours of our sleep is when our brains get a memory boost. When we jump start our day by getting up after just six hours of sleep, our concentration and physical limits suffer. Getting less than six hours of sleep is equivalent of going without sleep for 24 hours.

Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

Dr. Walker states, “You do not know how sleep-deprived you are when you are sleep deprived.” Driving while sleep-deprived is as dangerous – or even more dangerous – than driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Falling asleep at the wheel for two seconds at 30 mph, your vehicle can completely change lanes. An alcohol-impaired driver’s reactions are slow, but a sleeping driver has no reaction.

Dr. Walker says we should not fool ourselves into thinking we can force ourselves to stay awake while driving by turning up the music or opening a car window. Those – and all other such coping practices we’ve probably all used more times than we want to admit – are all myths.

He says we are also only kidding ourselves when we think we can “catch up” on our sleep on the weekend. If we’ve lost sleep during the week, it takes more than three nights of eights of sleep for our brain to get back to the level of performance it had early in the week.

Photo by Brian Matangelo on Unsplash

Although professional athletes team decision-makers can be told how important it is for players to get eight hours of sleep a day in order to be at peak physical and mental performance, few athletes get the sleep they need. Furthermore, getting adequate sleep after a game is even more important than it is prior to a competition because sleep is necessary for a body to recover from the toll a game takes on a body.

Also, Dr. Walker says that getting adequate sleep for several nights or a week prior to getting an influenza vaccine is necessary for a person to get the full immune benefits from the shot.

The second category of findings that grabbed my attention is that a lack of sleep is fast being recognized as a key factor in whether a person will develop Alzheimer’s Disease. He cautions that sleep is not a “magic bullet” against Alzheimer’s Disease, but there are some interesting associations.

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

A study found that those people with the most amyloid deposits in the frontal part of the brain also had the least deep end-Rem sleep and, therefore, had the least sleep state in which new memories are cemented.

The lymphatic system sanitizes the brain during sleep. Amyloid protein is removed – as well as tau – in this process which takes place in the last two hours of an eight-hour sleep cycle. Amyloid and tau are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. This becomes a vicious cycle if you’re not getting enough deep sleep:  more amyloid and tau build up leads to Alzheimer’s Disease, which leads to more amyloid and tau buildup, which leads to worsening of Alzheimer’s Disease, etc.

Dr. Walker addresses those individuals who claim they can get along well – even perfectly – on as little as four or five hours of sleep a day. He says they are only fooling themselves. He points out that US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher both made such claims. They both ended up with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The book also talks about sleep and its relation to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. He says, “Sleep is the bedrock for health.” Sleeping less than six hours a day increases one’s chances of heart trouble by 400%.

Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash

The third area of study explained in the book that struck a chord with me was the section about melatonin, electric lights, LED lights, and the short-spectrum blue lights given off by our electronic devices.

The advent of the electric light bulb enabled humans to change night into day in many respects. By doing so, we’ve forced our naturally-made melatonin (which signals our bodies that it’s time to start winding down because it’s getting dark and it’s time to go to sleep) to be delayed by several hours.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Dr. Walker warns of the harm looking at an electronic tablet late at night is doing more damage to our sleep patterns than we realize. If we look at a tablet until 11:00 pm and then go to bed, our natural melatonin might not kick in for two or three more hours instead of when it should have kicked in – say around nine or ten o’clock.

Have I gotten your attention?

I hope I have hit on some things that made you stop and think. Do you get adequate sleep?

I don’t. I haven’t had a night of restorative sleep since I became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome in 1987. My circadian rhythm is way out of rhythm. I paid for a number of appointments with a sleep specialist a few years ago. Dr. Walker’s book reiterates everything she told me. She told me to dim the lights for 90 minutes before going to bed, to keep my distance from a TV during that time, and to not under any circumstances use the computer or my tablet before going to bed.

The instructions Dr. Daley gave me were tough, but they worked. Eventually, after working on my bad habits for months, I was able to usually go to sleep by 1:00 a.m. instead of 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. I gradually fell back into old habits, though, and now I rarely fall asleep before 2:00 a.m. It’s a daily battle for me to fall asleep. Once I’m asleep, it’s equally as difficult to wake up.

Listening to Dr. Walker’s book – parts of it several times – has reminded me about the damage I’m doing to my health – to my brain, heart, and other organs – in the short term and in the long term.

It won’t be easy, but I must once again train myself to stop sabotaging my health.

I don’t expect or even aspire to ever being someone who goes to bed by 10:00 p.m. so I can wake up refreshed by 7:00 a.m. My physical maladies will never allow me to have restful sleep, but some of my late-night habits aren’t helping matters.

Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

I need to get back to the light dimming practices, etc. that Dr. Daley recommended so I’ll at least have a chance to get eight hours of sleep every day.

Since my last blog post

Being a writer of historical fiction gives me excuses to do things I wouldn’t otherwise do. If I’m going to have characters in my 18th century novels cooking in a fireplace, I need to know what that was like. I spent the day on Saturday at Hart Square Village near Vale, North Carolina, learning how to cook over an open fire in an 1800s kitchen (which wasn’t easy after only three hours of sleep!).

If you want to hear about my adventure, sign up for my newsletter by visiting my website (https://www.janetmorrisonbooks.com) and clicking on the “Subscribe” button. I’ll write about Saturday’s experience in my Janet Morrison Books Newsletter in July. It was quite am enjoyable day, but I was happy to come home that afternoon to my electric kitchen appliances!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a fascinating book to read. Please consider reading Dr. Walker’s book, if you tend to not get a full eight hours of sleep every night.

Make time for friends and family – and sleep!

Remember the brave people of Ukraine.


4 Books Read in May 2022

I read a somewhat odd combination of books last month. I’m sharing my thoughts about them in today’s blog post.

The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

This historical novel is based on the story of a real family. In light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, I think this was the perfect time for me to read it.

a novel of Ukraine
The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

With the backdrop of the history of the Holodomor (“The Horror”) of 1932-33 during which Joseph Stalin starved to death more than four million Ukrainians, the book demonstrates a deep-seated anger between Russia and Ukraine. After World War II, Stalin sent millions to work camps (including many to Siberia) and they were never heard from again. This history puts this year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine in perspective. No wonder Ukrainians would rather die than live under Putin’s thumb! They’ve tasted freedom, and they aren’t going back!

During World War II, Ukrainians were caught between Stalin and Hitler. That is where The Last Green Valley begins with the Martel family.

The Martels are of German ancestry and they live in Ukraine in the early- to mid-1940s. They’ve survived Stalin’s attempt to starve them. Now, World War II rages on and the Martels are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Do they take their chances with Stalin’s Russian Army or do they trust Hitler’s troops to guide them safely out of Ukraine? They choose the Germans and there begins the family’s horrendous trek across Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland.

This book is a novel of the human spirit, faith in God and in our fellow human beings. It is also a book of man’s inhumanity to man. In the end, it is also a story of the dream called America.

The book’s “Afterword” will refresh your memory about Ukrainian-Russian history.

You might recall that I read Mark Sullivan’s novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, in December 2019 and blogged about it on January 13, 2020: The Other Books I Read in December 2019. I tried listening to The Last Green Valley last May and wrote about that experience in my May 14, 2021 blog post, 3 Books I Tried to Listen To in May. I found reading it to be a much better experience than trying to listen to it on CD. It’s great to have options.

Finding Me: A Memoir, by Viola Davis

I rarely read a memoir, but I was drawn to Finding Me: A Memoir, by actor Viola Davis. I’ve admired her acting talents since seeing the movie, “The Help,” or perhaps before on TV, but I had no idea how bad her childhood was until I read her new book.

Finding Me, by Viola Davis

Ms. Davis grew up in a poor, abuse-filled home in a predominantly white town in Rhode Island. Her father regularly beat her mother and the children were unable to shut out the noise of those beatings. There were rats in the house they rented and extensive times when there was no electricity of hot water. She writes about how hard it is for a poor child to compete in school when they have no way to stay clean and they’re always hungry. These are things I’ve never faced in my entire life. I’m incredibly blessed.

A few key teachers, mentors, the Upward Bound program, and her first taste of theater pulled Ms. Davis out of that deadend environment and enabled her to see where her talents lay. And we are all now reaping the benefits of her incredible journey.

She writes about the racism she experienced in Rhode Island and New York City. She was accepted at Juilliard in New York City, where they tried to train all acting students to be white actors. There was only other other Black person in her class at Juilliard and only 30 Black students in the entire student body of 856 (all disciplines.)

The students at Juilliard were forbidden to perform anything but opera, ballet, and the European classics.  They were told singing Gospel music, playing jazz, participating in tap or modern dance, etc. would “ruin your instrument.”

Ms. Davis writes about a life-changing and life-affirming experience she had after her second year at Juilliard when she was awarded a scholarship to travel to The Gambia with a group led by Chuck Davis, an African dance choreographer out of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

She continued two more years at Juilliard and graduated from that prestigious fine arts school, but her heart and soul were opened by the beautiful innate talent she saw and heard in The Gambia, and it was really through that experience that she found herself.

In later life, her father got himself under control and Ms. Davis was able to have a loving relationship with him and her mother that she had been denied as a child.

The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A Narrative History of Rowan County, North Carolina, By James S. Brawley

I was delighted to be able to check out a copy of this book from the Cabarrus County Public Library. It contains many tidbits of information that will enrich the historical novel I’m writing.

The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A Narrative History of Rowan County, North Carolina, By James S. Brawley

The novel I’m writing now actually comes before the one I wrote first. Now, Book One is Book Two, since the one I’m working on now needs to be Book One. I got so involved in imagining the backstory for the first one I wrote, I decided that backstory needed to be a book of its own. Will either book ever be published? That remains to be seen, but I enjoy the process of writing and doing the research.

What does any of this have to do with Rowan County? In Book One, Sarah and her brother and their father leave the mountains of Virginia and travel down The Great Wagon Road. A stopover in Salisbury in Rowan County turns into the family settling down there. Book Two finds Sarah living in The Waxhaws settlement in Lancaster County, South Carolina.

Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s, by Meryl Comer

This is probably the saddest book I’ve ever read. At its publication in 2014, the author’s husband had had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease for nearly 20 years. He was diagnosed at the age of 58 and had been a physician and medical researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.

Slow Dancing with a Stranger, by Meryl Comer

The author is an advocate for more research into Alzheimer’s Disease and is pushing for more studies of people before they show signs of the disease. Her hope is that such studies will help researchers to discern how to diagnose the illness earlier – while the patient can still have a good quality of life.

She writes in detail how the disease not only destroyed her husband’s life and stole his personality, his ability to control bodily functions, his ability to talk or communicate in any way, his ability to swallow except for droppers of water, etc. She also details the care she provided 24/7 and the caregivers she hired to assist her. The toll it took on her was incalculable.

I’m glad I read it. When I started reading it, I thought it would be a book I’d recommend to my family members who are dealing with the early stages of the disease in their mother. By the time I finished the book, I thought their reading it would only be profoundly depressing at this early stage in their journey.

An online search revealed that the author’s husband died in 2020.

Since my last blog post

I took a week off from writing my blog last week. Since my last blog post of May 23, there was yet another mass shooting in a school in the United States. This one was in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In addition to two teachers, 19 precious children were massacred.

We have to find the courage to stop the madness in the United States of America. Until the National Rifle Association and its clones/wannabes stop financing political campaigns, nothing will change. Until elected officials on Capitol Hill and in the state legislatures develop backbones, nothing will change. Their “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read or write. I received a complimentary copy of the hot-off-the-presses 3rd edition of LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. I look forward to reading this edition and seeing the changes Ms. Givens made from an earlier edition I read.

Find time to relax and enjoy a hobby.

This afternoon I’ll watch/listen to the fourth in a series of four free webinars about writing a book proposal offered by Chad R. Allen. The three sessions so far have been very helpful.

Remember the people of Ukraine and the people of Uvalde, Texas.