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sleep

Odd Lots

Paradoxical Insomnia

For all the time I’ve been struggling with insomnia, I had never heard of “paradoxical insomnia” until Michael Covington recently called it to my attention.

Sleep is a weird business from top to bottom. I’ve encountered a lot of that weirdness, especially since 2001, when my company began to implode. I’ve never been a strong sleeper, but after that I began having nights when I might sleep for no more than an hour…

…or so it seemed at the time.

One of the weirdnesses of the post-Coriolis era is that, for as little as I thought I slept, I seemed to do reasonably well during the day. I certainly wasn’t at my best, but for the most part I wasn’t falling asleep in my chair. I wonder now if I experienced paradoxical insomnia, which is an unusual sleep disorder in which patients feel like they have slept little (or not at all) when in fact they slept adequately, if not normally. In paradoxical insomnia, a patient perceives time spent awake incorrectly. He or she might feel like it takes an hour or more to fall asleep when in fact it took only a few minutes. Early-morning awakenings during which hours seem to pass may again span only a few minutes. The condition is poorly understood. Researchers now think that patients are dreaming that they’re awake. This may seem bizarre to people who sleep normally, but let me tell you, I understand completely.

Here’s why: In my case, at least, the border between wakefulness and dreaming is rubbery. I’ve had some success with a technique I read in one book or another, which involves imagining some quiet activity that reflects daily life. Counting sheep may work for people who live and work with sheep. I’ve seen live sheep half a dozen times in my life, and you can have ’em. What works for me is imagining things like taking walks, sorting books on bookshelves, and having boring conversations with unexceptional people. Although I have “interesting” dreams about one shot in ten (along with the very occasional lulu) the vast majority of my dreams are very much like that: walking alone or sometimes with a nameless companion, or doing domestic things of little consequence, like taking towels out of the washing machine and putting them in the dryer.

I know that the technique works because a time or two I recall sliding from guided meditation into a dream without any change of scenery. I know that it was a dream because it stopped following the script. Here’s the best example: Jeff and a nameless and poorly imagined female companion are walking down a country road on a generic summer evening, talking about dumb stuff. No mosquitoes.

JEFF: Hey, there’s a sycamore tree! I like sycamore trees.

COMPANION: Me too.

JEFF: My grandfather planted one in the back yard when I was a kid. It had the biggest damned leaves.

COMPANION: I remember those.

JEFF: And seed balls. We used to throw them at each other.

COMPANION: That must have been fun.

JEFF: It was. We used to be able to burn the leaves in the street.

COMPANION (Turning): Jeff, what do you want most from God?

JEFF: Unconditional love.

Bzzzzt! In my directed meditations my imaginary companions do not ask me questions. So when my imaginary companions begin taking control, I know (in hindsight) that I’m dreaming.

In the grim days after Coriolis went under, I had plenty of experience lying awake much of the night and staring at the wall. At some point it became part of ordinary life, and thus completely unremarkable dream-fodder. I also seem to slide from conscious thought into dream states very smoothly. This is why dreaming about lying awake is no stretch at all, and may have continued long after I had gotten over the loss. It may continue to this day. Short of monitoring my own brain waves, I’m not sure how to tell.

But boy, it’s probably better than talking beavers.

Odd Lots

  • Here is the entire sky projected on a plane, and zoomable.  (LINK REMOVED–SEE COMMENTS.) That doesn’t do it anything like justice. Cruise the image a little and gasp. (Give the site time to refresh; it’s newly slashdotted.) Read the rest of the page too–it’s fascinating, and full of great photos. Chile looks a great deal like Mars in some places.
  • There is apparently a correlation between sleep loss and amyloid tangles in the brain, which are a key element in Alzheimer’s Disease. Causation is still a little unclear, but I find it significant that in our era of Anything But Sleep, the incidence of various dementias is exploding. Be in bed by 10:00PM and keep your brain. Now there’s a deal I can live with.
  • Wired has an interesting retrospective on tablet computing, which I found worthwhile mostly for the mention of a steampunk-era electromechanical handwriting encode-and-transfer device, which ferdam sounds like what Sherlock Holmes would use to IM Watson.
  • Here’s another worthwhile perspective on the Google Books Settlement.
  • A chap who calls himself the Jolly Pirate wrote to tell me that the Pirate Party is alive and well in the US (I was under the impression that it was a European thing) and some interesting links may be found on its site, many of which have nothing to do with piracy. Now, would an American instance of the Pirate Party lean left or right? (Or would it be port and starboard?) I’ll be damned if I can decide…
  • It’s been a bad season for big-time wine critics, who can’t seem to find a business model and keep getting busted in conflict-of-interest scandals. The Internet allows the crowdsourcing of critique of all sorts of things–why should wine be any different?
  • Pertinent to the above: What we need is the wine implementation of the “People who liked this also liked…” mechanism I see (and use) in the book world. I very much like Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel, though the 2007 vintage now in stores is a pale shadow of 2005. What would be a wine similar to that? (If you know of such a system for wine, please share.)
  • There are candy Legos.
  • The charger for my Kodak pocket camera is a thin little slab with two 110V power plug pins that swivel out to plug into the wall, and then swivel back into hiding when they’re not needed. Why can’t they build that mechanism right into the back of an ebook reader? (I was without my Sony Reader for a couple of months after I lost the charger.)
  • After an unexplained absence of several weeks, Fort Carson’s cannon is back. (See my entry for September 15, 2009.) Maybe the cannon was broke and they had to send it back to the factory for repairs…

Odd Lots

  • Sleep seems to be key in allowing the brain to infer big-picture relationships from scattered facts–and by implication, memories. I’ve never been a strong sleeper, and I wonder if some of the “fails” in my older memories stem from inadequate deep sleep.
  • Also from Wired Science: People who don’t get enough sleep are touchy and angry. (Not like that’s news to anyone who’s prone to sleepless nights.) Could this explain the peculiar unpleasantness of the political blogosphere? I’ll vouch for the fact that peace, love, and tolerance of people who disagree with you is much easier on nine hours’ sleep than five.
  • If you’ll forgive the expression, here’s a long, beefy article on why everybody thinks animal fat is a bad thing (hint: it’s because a Right Man cherry-picked his data to confirm his hypothesis) and why, to the contrary, animal fat may be very, very good for us.
  • Maybe this will bring the issue of bad patents to the top of the queue. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht and numerous others for the link.)
  • From Jim Strickland comes a link suggesting that your family dog may be smarter than the average toddler. (Your dog, maybe. Mine, probably not.)
  • I was wrong about it coming from a Kum & Go store; while sorting my charge card receipts I discovered that Fat Dogs (see my entry for August 7, 2009) is a small chain of Conoco-franchised gas station/convenience stores limited to Western Nebraska. They had some water private-labeled by Sandhills Water, and put their wry corporate motto on the top of the label.
  • Lileks takes on the Sears Catalog for 1973. I remember that catalog. Fortunately, my clothes came from Goldblatts. And did real, human, breathing girls wear these things? Maybe the girls in Hoffman Estates did. In my neighborhood, well…no.
  • From the Words I Didn’t Know Until Yesterday Department: juiceboxer, a young, arrogant, high-status preppie-type. Their parents got their juice from bottles. And their grandparents mostly got it while it was still inside the fruit. Juice as a product is a relatively new thing; keeping juice from fermenting is difficult and one of the unappreciated miracles of our modern age.