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.

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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.


Correlation Between Writing and Azheimer’s?

In addition to the novels I’m reading this month, I read The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, by Jay Ingram. After finding a connection between writing and Alzheimer’s Disease, I decided to give this book attention in a blog post by itself.

The author, Jay Ingram, has no medical training; however, he is a science writer and was the co-host and producer of Discovery Channel Canada’s “Daily Planet” program. The book is well-documented with sources to back up his writing.

The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, by Jay Ingram

The book gives good explanations of plaques and tangles, which are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. It goes into more scientific detail than I wanted to process, but it appeared to give a good overview of where Alzheimer’s knowledge stood at the time of its publication in 2014.

The more I read in the book, the more I came to realize just how complicated the research is. The cause of the disease remains elusive. Do the plaques and tangles cause Alzheimer’s? Or does Alzheimer’s cause the plaques and tangles? Why do some people with numerous plaques and tangles in their brains show no signs of having Alzheimer’s?

The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s gives good explanations of what is known about the disease and pulls no punches when it comes to how far we probably still are from identifying its cause. In the meantime, drugs attempt to treat the symptoms.

As a writer, I was intrigued by Chapter Nine about the Nuns Study. I’m referring to the 1990s study directed by Dr. David Snowdon with 678 School Sisters of Notre Dame. As Mr. Ingram explained, “They’d have their lives measured, their minds challenged, and in the end, their brains autopsied.”

The ninth chapter of the book is about some of the study findings. The study result that grabbed my attention was that it found a correlation between the idea density in essays the nuns wrote when they were 20 to 22 years old and their incidence of dementia 60 or 70 years later.

Idea density is defined as how many ideas are expressed in every 10 words. According to the Nuns Study, as reported by Jay Ingram in The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Azheimer’s, the lower the idea density in an essay written as a young adult, the higher the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease 60 or 70 years later.

The biographical essays the nuns had written in their early 20s were also evaluated for grammatical complexity. Mr. Ingram wrote, “Grammatical complexity challenges working memory as you struggle either to follow someone else’s edifice of a sentence or to keep your own words under control. Each additional clause soaks up mental resources.”

Working memory generally decreases with age, of course, but no correlation was found in the Nun Study between grammatical complexity and the chance of getting Alzheimer’s. Mr. Ingram stated in the book, “Only idea density has that mysterious relationship.”

The correlation between idea density and Alzheimer’s might turn out to mean nothing. Most of us don’t have copies of essays we wrote when we were 20 years old. I’m glad I don’t. I might be embarrassed by my writing skills at that age. If my idea density was low at age 20, I don’t want to know at 64 that there is a higher probability that I’ll develop Alzheimer’s than if I’d been a better writer back then.

That is just one example of the complexities of Alzheimer’s Disease and the effort to determine cause and effect. The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s tells about numerous other studies and their findings. Some recent studies indicate that the “epidemic” of Alzheimer’s might be slowing. Drug and other treatment trials continue.

The book addresses the part DNA might play in the disease as well as some information about treatments. It tells about the theory from the 1970s into the 1990s that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s. Other food items have been considered for possible connections with the disease.

Mr. Ingram tells about Suzanne de la Monte of Brown University and her theory that there might be a connection between sugar and Alzheimer’s. In fact, her article in a 2012 issue of Current Alzheimer’s Research makes the case for thinking of Alzheimer’s as possibly being Type 3 Diabetes.

According to Mr. Ingram’s book, Alzheimer’s accounts for 65-75% of all dementia cases, but we need to be mindful that 25-35% of dementia cases are not connected to Alzheimer’s Disease.

I found this book to be enlightening and helpful. I am not an authority on Alzheimer’s Disease, but I was impressed with the documentation Mr. Ingram gives. It was the most thorough book about Alzheimer’s that I found at the public library from the last several years of publication.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Deep Dark Descending, by Allen Eskens and News of the World, by Paulette Jiles.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.