Dinosaurs and Seahawks: Defense Wins Championships

I was one of those dinosaur kids.  I grew up completely, hopelessly enamored by dinosaurs.  I found them endlessly fascinating.  As a preschooler I strived to learn about and memorize as many prehistoric creatures as possible.  I could tell you which eras and periods in which various dinosaurs lived, what their bony structures told us about their ways of life, where their fossils were first discovered, how they walked, what they ate.  In my young childhood days long before the Internet, I satisfied my interest in paleontology through books, flash cards, and models.  I carried dinosaur books and drawings everywhere I went.  The librarians at Whitewater, Wisconsin’s public library all knew my name and knew my favorite place to camp out while I drank in as much dino-knowledge as my young brain could handle.  My fervor for the topic even earned me and my tattered book of drawings an article in Whitewater’s newspaper when I was four:


Anyway, everyone I encountered as a young child asked me the same question:  “What’s your favorite dinosaur?”  That was an easy question to answer.  Of course it was Ankylosaurus.


(This, by the way, is my all-time favorite depiction of Ankylosaurus, taken from my all-time favorite dinosaur book.)

Strange and turtle-like in appearance, Ankylosaurus sported much more than just a hard-shell carapace to protect itself from predators.  If you examine its body further, you will notice several additional features that surely served it well:  hard lateral spikes, a series of protective horns on the crest of its head, and–the pièce de résistance–a hard, bony club at the end of its tail, great for whacking the legs of would-be aggressors that ventured a little too close.  Seriously, imagine yourself as a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to get a piece of this guy.  Good luck.


I’m sure I was asked somewhere along the way by curious adults, “Why do you like Ankylosaurus so much?”  I doubt I would have been able to give a cogent reply to this more challenging question as a young child.  But as an adult, I think I now know the answer:  Ankylosaurus was a giant, living, walking, breathing defensive weapon.

In our modern world we’re constantly assailed by all sorts of crazy stuff:  an overwhelming mountain of information, people, advertisements, opportunities, and threats, coming at us like a slow-moving, never-stopping avalanche as we move through life.  Though I am probably the worst possible person to assess my own personality, I know I identify easily with the idea of hunkering down and going into shield mode, on behalf of myself and my family.  I’m more of a protector than a predator.  I suppose, then, that it’s natural that I identified with the Ankylosaurus more than I did the T-Rex as a young child.

So–and I recognize this may be the weirdest segue in the history of blogdom–I found last week’s Seattle Seahawks Superbowl win over the Denver Broncos particularly gratifying, and not just because I’m a proud Seattle resident and Seahawks fan.  After hearing for two solid weeks various commentators and pundits crowing about Payton Manning and Denver’s offensive records this season, there was a clear sense of satisfaction in watching all of that not matter as the Seahawks dismantled the Broncos with its smothering, overwhelming defense.


Seattle’s domination was so complete, in fact, that it had ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless eating crow and paying respect where it was due:

Sometimes a formidable offense just doesn’t matter.  The fact that the phrase “defense wins championships” is a cliché doesn’t matter either.  It’s a cliché because it’s true.  Just ask Ankylosaurus, who isn’t too ancient to provide us all a little lesson for these crazy modern times.

Sleep Help Desk’s Top 10 Songs of 2013!

Happy New Year, one and all!  2013 was one wild ride for me, both professionally and personally.  Kids growing up, all the uncertainty of the future of health care, Miley Cyrus’s foam finger–sometimes it’s all just too much for a guy to take.  So today, this first day of 2014, I’m going to relax before a friend’s New Year’s party and list for you my favorite tunes from last year.  There were a lot of great songs released in 2013, so I will list some great “honorable mentions” as well.  I wish everyone a happy, musical 2014!  Enjoy these songs below.

10.  Stay at Home Mother — Sheryl Crow.  I’ve never been a full-time professional musician, but I’ve played many more gigs in my life than I can count.  More importantly, however, I understand fully what it feels like to wonder how your work, work hours, and ambition are impacting your little ones.  This acoustic song, tear-jerkingly honest, heart-breaking, and hopeful, encapsulates that struggle beautifully and plaintively.  Though my boys are maturing faster than I prefer, they still ask me not to leave if I have to leave for an evening meeting or other such thing.  I appreciate and cherish that, and I hope that for the rest of my life my children will want me and my wife to “stay at home.”

9.  Hey Pretty Girl — Kip Moore.  I love songs that summarize a person’s entire life in three minutes.  This song tells the story of one man’s history with his wife, front to finish.  The guy in the song just wants what most of us want, I think–someone to love, someone with which to share the simple joys of life.  I’m drawn to the slightly off-kilter rhythm (which is unusual in country radio), the vocal melodies, the believable lyrics.  Plus, this is the first song I played after bringing my very first bass guitar home five months ago.

8.  This is What It Feels Like — Armin van Buuren, featuring Trevor Guthrie.  My boys are completely obsessed with pop music.  They demand it in the car, play it the moment they get home from school, dance to it with wild abandon at their school socials.  Accordingly, a tsunami of modern pop has been forced upon me in 2013.  Understand, pop when I was their age was “Undercover Angel” by Alan O’Day, “Beth” by Kiss, and “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns, so what is popular now to young people sounds radically different from the music on the radio when I was coming of age.  But my curmudgeonly self must admit that there are some pretty good songs in my boys’s playlists, and here is one of them.  Like “Hey Pretty Girl” the baseline rhythm is a little atypical, but it’s very danceable nonetheless, as I’ve witnessed firsthand.

7.  I Hold On — Dierks Bentley.  This song slays me.  I identify completely with the idea of appreciating what you have and valuing the things and people that have stuck with you for years.  As time goes on your modern life becomes increasingly deluged by garish and obnoxious distractions–technology, hassles, vulture-like people–that in the end don’t hold near the meaning of a small circle of simple, rock-solid things and people that continue to have your back.  Like Dierks, “I hold on.”

6.  Anywhere With You — Jake Owen.  This song speaks to the travel abandon button I wish I could push more frequently.  You know the feeling you get when you thumb through Travel + Leisure or Islands, that wish that you could scratch your itch to travel immediately–like get on a plane right now–but you can’t because you’re looking at the magazines on the treadmill in your gym before going to work?  We love a good trip, and I’m looking forward to more exploration in the near future.

5.  Odds Are — Barenaked Ladies.  BNL still rule, after all these years, despite the departure of Steven Page.  Using their trademark humor (check out the video!) they speak deceptively simple truths.  I hold up this song as a beacon of hope for me and my fellow physicians in 2014.  I sincerely hope that, despite my cynicism regarding what so many different people and organizations are thrusting upon us in health care, “the odds are that we will probably be all right.”

4.  Sunny and 75 — Joe Nichols.  I guess this shows you where my head’s at, considering this song along with my #6 pick.  Here in Seattle in the summer it’s sunny and 75, one of the best places on the planet to spend the summer, but at the moment it’s grey and considerably cooler than 75, and there’s not a beach chair in sight.  I’ve been singing this song in the car all year, though.

3.  Elevate — The Winery Dogs.  My friend, bass master Billy Sheehan, combined with Richie Kotzen and Mike Portnoy to create this explosive supergroup, whose debut album is in my opinion easily the greatest hard rock release of the year.  There are too many great songs to choose from in the album; the relentless “Time Machine” and the sublime, bluesy “Regret” in particular were real contenders for this list.  Ultimately, however, I chose “Elevate” for its awe-inspiring riffs, technical precision, great vocals, and of course Billy’s absolutely sick bass skills.  I strongly urge you to see this trio in concert should they roll through your area in 2014.  A Winery Dogs show is a game-changer.

2.  Alma de Guerreiro — Seu Jorge.  This is Brazilian funk at its finest, chugging over a deeply embedded foundation of ijexa.  I came to know this song from performing it at a Carnaval concert last spring.  The riff is inescapable, and it’s impossible not to move under its spell.  Salve Jorge!

1.  I See Fire — Ed Sheeran.  Put Peter Jackson, Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, and the traditional Celtic song “The Parting Glass” in a blender and you have this powerful piece, which sings of a fool’s hope in the face of relentless malice and terrible odds.  It’s hard for me not to draw parallels between the song and what is happening on this planet at the moment, but I’m choosing simply to enjoy this apocalyptic track for its dark acoustic brilliance.

Here are some honorable mentions from 2013.

Brainwash — La Luz.  Seattle all-female surf rock quartet.  Great stuff.

Tippin’ Point — Dallas Smith.  Modern Canadian country at its finest.

Wake Me Up — Avicii.  Another impossibly catchy song introduced to me by my pop-lovin’ sons.

Follow Your Arrow — Casey Musgraves.  She has some stones to sing about what she sings about.  More power to her for speaking the truth.

Whatever She’s Got — David Nail.  This was an ear worm all autumn long.

Opiates — Throwing Muses.  Kristin Hersh is a genius.

Didn’t Mean to Fall in Love — Boston.  It is great to hear Brad Delp’s voice again.

Happy 2014!


My Name is Maracujá!: My Interview With Eduardo Mendonça, Part 2

As those in my musical circles are aware, I have a Brazilian name.  I am Maracujá.

Maracujá is the Portuguese name of a passion fruit (Passiflora edulis) native to many South American countries, including Brazil.  It is often used in desserts and drinks (including the caipirinha, a famous Brazilian beverage, as well as bottled fruit drinks, such as depicted in the photo below).  In addition, it is known as a mild sedative, and it is an active ingredient in numerous sleep aids in Brazil.

I love the name.  It means a lot to me.  There is affection and friendship imbued in it, and as you can see it is also relevant to my career and my work.

Maracujá was bestowed upon me by my friend, Eduardo Mendonça, leader of the Seattle-based band Show Brazil!.  During an outdoor festival performance last year, Eduardo introduced me to the audience as Maracujá for the first time.  He also told the crowd that this was to be a christening:  he summoned everybody to shout out the name after him.  Three times a crowd of hundreds of people roared my new name.  All I could do was bow in gratitude and humility.  It was a wonderful experience, and I have Eduardo to thank forever for that brief but profound life moment.  Eduardo has introduced me to our audiences with this name ever since.


During a recent chat over coffee I asked Eduardo to recount how he came up with this title that is now mine.

MC: As you know, you are the one who christened me with this name, Maracujá, which I hold sacred, personally, and which I appreciate very much. I was hoping you could talk about how you arrived at the name, and what it means historically and culturally in Brazil.

EM: Sure. To baptize you with this name was very much an honor for me, because giving a Brazilian name to someone requires a very strong connection, a connection with what you do and what kind of person you are. To best represent you, I came up with the Maracujá name because of the work that you do, helping people with sleep disorders and making life better, right? That’s very important, you thinking of the well-being of someone. How I could connect that, your work and yourself as a person helping others with a Brazilian meaning that could represent you very well? Maracujá is used in Brazil as a natural medicine to relax people. Some people put in a lot of sugar, even though sugar doesn’t go well with relaxing.  But if you put in the right dose of sugar, it would be fine, and would really create a natural relaxing time and relaxing moment, to help you with sleep, to help you calm down, and that’s how I came up with the name for you. It was not difficult at all to connect it to what you are, what you do, with something in Brazil that is a function that can make things good for somebody.

MC: There’s clearly a deep connection between relaxation and sleep. Is it known in the Brazilian culture that the passion fruit or its derivatives can help a person sleep? Does it really have a sedative property, actually make you drowsy?

EM: Yes.  Of course it depends on the quantity that you have. Definitely I remember my parents, when I was a kid, preparing the passion fruit, the maracujá juice to make a very energetic kid calm down. It helped me sleep. If you give it a few hours before you go to bed, and of course if you don’t have anything else in your body to cut that effect, it definitely helps you relax and sleep.

MC: Again, I’m honored to have the name, and I wear it proudly.  Thank you, Eduardo.

Show Brazil! plays all year ’round, and the summer season promises to be great this year!  Obrigado, Eduardo!


An Early Mo(u)rning For Jayhawk Nation


As any student or alum of a blue blood basketball college–Duke, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas–knows, summer, fall, and winter really serve but one purpose:  to prepare for March Madness, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  During this time of year, late March to early April, 68 of the best men’s college basketball teams in the United States punch their cards to the “Big Dance,” in the hope of their one shining moment, a chance to be national champion.

I’m an 8-year Jayhawk, having gone to college and medical school at the University of Kansas.  I was a senior undergraduate when our basketball team–led by Danny Manning–claimed the national title in 1988.  It was truly an unforgettable experience:  the height of uncontrollable joy and complete elation, a party that lasted for three straight days and nights.  Differences and conflicts between people and between groups on campus simply evaporated as hundreds of thousands from Lawrence to Kansas City poured out of their homes, dorms, and workplaces to celebrate together, to hug and high-five perfect strangers, to be in the moment.  For weeks following that win over Billy Tubbs’ Oklahoma Sooners, a collective rapture unified us, making us whole in our exultation and the love for our school.  That intoxicating sensation transcended mere sports:  it was a pure happiness, the way you wanted things to be forever, the way you hoped your life would be like when you grew up, whatever it was your future held.  That feeling is perhaps what I would imagine being jacked up on crack or heroin must be like.  When you’re there, in that moment, you know that it’s unrealistic to expect such ecstasy to be sustainable, it’s so epic and so intense.  But you hope against hope that life could feel this way, if not forever, then at least again.  Some time again.

It is with this hope of recapturing that bliss that every year we Kansas Jayhawks look forward to our autumn ritual, Late Night in the Phog, to usher in the new men’s basketball season and all the hopes and expectations that go with it.  Long after graduation we look forward to watching every game, at Allen Fieldhouse, on television, or online, and cheering on our guys.  We watch the AP and USA Today polls every Monday morning for upward movement in our rankings.  We closely follow our main man, head coach Bill Self, as he clears a path for each year’s kids with grace and confidence.  And as Selection Sunday draws nearer and nearer, our heads fill with a heady mixture of excitement and anxiety, anticipating seeds, matchups, and karma in an annual quest for our holy grail:  the national title.  No matter what your station in life, no matter how happy you might be at home or at work, there is still that other happiness you crave, that sensation more powerful than any street drug.  Your team is the only key that opens the door to that happiness.

It is the proclivity of the Jayhawk to combine hope with expectation, at least an expectation to be a worthy contender, and with class.  But becoming national champion is hard.  Very hard.  And statistically unlikely.  So for us, when it comes to the final result of the national tournament, there are really only two options:  complete elation with a championship or utter devastation when our team falls short.  Since my senior year at KU, that complete elation happened once again, in 2008, thanks to Mario Chalmers and his now-legendary game-tying 3-pointer against the Memphis Tigers:

To witness a true Jayhawk championship court-stormin’, forward to 4:00 in this clip, again taken from Allen Fieldhouse:

And so it was that Jayhawk Nation went into the 2013 national tournament with its usual high hopes, Kansas the #1 seed in the south region.  When we lost in overtime to the Michigan Wolverines 48 hours ago in the Sweet Sixteen, it was full-on, crushing, world-coming-down heartbreak.  Without dwelling on details here, a healthy lead dissipated gradually during the final 3 minutes of regulation play, forcing us into overtime due in part to an incredible Michigan 3-pointer with seconds left, kind of a Mario Miracle in reverse.  We had been winning virtually all game long until the very end of regulation.  It’s tough to take, this idea that just one more point, one less missed opportunity, one more free throw, and the outcome could have been very different.  Jayhawkers around the country reeled in shock.  Only now am I starting to recover from it.

I’ve spent this past weekend nursing my emotional wounds and dealing with another transient but inevitable element of my own special method of mourning:  sleep maintenance insomnia.  I’ve been awakening around 4:30 a.m. for the past 2 days.  Yes, I’ve been following my own advice and getting out of bed to minimize the frustration.  The phenomenon of early-morning awakening is a very common clinical element in situational and characterologic depression.  I know me, and I’ve been through enough NCAA tournaments to know my tendencies:  I’m as blue as can be for 2-3 days after a tournament loss, and then life’s demands and thoughts of next year’s season gradually take over to help me climb out of my funk.  I can already feel that happening today, so I think tomorrow will be a better morning.

One thing’s for sure, a lot of Jayhawks slept poorly this past weekend.  But here’s to a new morning, a new Late Night in the Phog, and a promising 2013-2014 season.  Looks like Kentucky will be the team to beat next year, but we will continue to cultivate our high hopes.  Go get ’em, Hawks!


Morris Chang, M.D.: Welcome to My Sleep Medicine Blog Site

Hello everyone!  Dr. Morris here writing my inaugural blog post on this site.  Thank you for starting this great new journey with me!

I’d like to start by telling you why I started this blog site.  There aren’t a lot of things that every single human being has to do.  Everyone needs to eat.  Everyone needs to breathe.  And everyone needs to SLEEP.  Sleep is a biological requirement, plain and simple, something we all must do regularly to remain alive, functional, and healthy.  Yet, as you are probably aware, problems with sleep are incredibly prevalent.  In the United States, one-third of adults have at least occasional but clinically significant insomnia, for example.  6-10% of American adults have obstructive sleep apnea.  10% of American adults have restless leg syndrome.  There are 94 sleep disorders recognized by the International Classification of Sleep Disorders.  Sleep problems compromise the lives of millions and millions of people every night, resulting in a multitude of problems as dire and far-reaching as marital discord, chronic daytime sleepiness, sexual and social dysfunction, fall-asleep car crashes, depression, impaired work productivity, heart disease, and sudden death during sleep.  Within the realm of medicine exists a small but very important subspecialty–known as somnology or sleep medicine–which is devoted to the evaluation, diagnosis, and management of problems with sleep.  This is what I practice:  I am a physician sleep specialist.  And I love what I do.

I pledge to commit the vast majority of future blog posts to you and/or your loved ones, who may have sleeping problems.  However, as I believe it important for readers to understand and get to know the person producing the words they’re reading, I would like to devote the remainder of this initial post to my history and how I came to do what I do today.  I appreciate your allowing me the opportunity to tell you briefly my story.

I was born in DeKalb, Illinois.  When I was two, my parents moved me and my younger brother to Whitewater, Wisconsin, where we lived until I was seven.  We then moved to Wichita, Kansas, where I spent the remainder of my childhood.  I went to college at the University of Kansas, where intense studying as a chemistry major and pre-med student was punctuated by, well, quite a bit of fun, including many nights at Allen Fieldhouse cheering on our perennially great basketball team.  I also graduated from medical school at KU, making me an eight-year Jayhawk, something of which I am very proud.

After obtaining my medical degree, I left the midwest to explore living and undergoing my postgraduate education in a totally different environment.  I completed my internship in internal medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, and then my residency and chief residency in neurology at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire.  What an incredible, mind-expanding experience that was, coming to know a completely different part of our country and making so many new acquaintances and friends from backgrounds and places very different from mine.  In every way imaginable, it was an education of a lifetime.  Following completion of my residency, I moved to Seattle, where I completed fellowships in clinical neurophysiology, epilepsy, and sleep medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.  Additional graduate and post-graduate education over the years took place at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, and the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis.  I’m proud to say I was mentored by great professors through the years, including Maurice Victor, Peter Williamson, Mark Mahowald, Carlos Schenck, and Vishesh Kapur.  From kindergarten to the end of my fellowships, I spent 27 years being schooled!

I am now in my thirteenth year of clinical practice in the Seattle area, primarily in south Puget Sound.  I am board-certified in both neurology and sleep medicine, but I practice sleep medicine full-time.  Why sleep medicine?  Simply speaking, it’s a blast.  I can help the vast majority of my patients sleep better and feel better during the day.  I can actually cure sleep problems.  I spend most of my time evaluating patients face-to-face, interpreting diagnostic testing if appropriate, treating sleep problems, and managing patients longterm.  It’s incredibly gratifying to help people, from hardcore insomniacs to lifetime “heroic” snorers, improve their health and quality of life.  I have additional duties:  I am the medical director for two American Academy of Sleep Medicine accredited sleep centers; I have sat on various hospital-based, regional, and national committees over the years; I have published articles in New England Journal of Medicine and Neurology; I thoroughly enjoy public speaking as well, and I deliver talks regularly to various groups and organizations on matters pertaining to sleep.  My favorite part of the workday, however, remains seeing my patients through their diagnosis and treatment for sleep problems and helping lives improve.

My path to sleep medicine was also informed by more personal experiences.  Though I generally sleep very well, I’ve had the occasional night of poor sleep, as many of us have.  My mother, a retired businesswoman, has had fluctuating insomnia for many years.  My late father, a professor and criminologist, had REM behavior disorder (RBD), a disorder in which one physically enacts one’s dreams.  Having trained with Mark Mahowald and Carlos Schenck, who were instrumental in the discovery and initial characterization of RBD, I have now been involved in the care of a great many patients with RBD, and in every case I think back to my dad, who I miss dearly every day.

I’m happily married to Melissa, a pharmacist.  We have two wonderful boys, Nathan and Colin, who keep our lives boisterous and exciting, and a super-cute Maltese named Molly.  I love to read–I’m in the middle of 2-3 books at all times–and to write.  I’ve now lived on both coasts, but the midwest will always be my true home; I continue to root for my Jayhawks, particularly around March Madness time!  I got my private pilot license when I was seventeen, having mowed yards and washed dishes to pay for my lessons.  I ski, scuba dive, and play sports with my boys.  We travel as much as possible, and embrace new experiences in different places.  I belong to several service organizations, and I am a proud Rotarian.  A primary passion in my life, outside of my family, friends, and work, is music.  It’s one of those things that makes life great for me.  I play drums, percussion, keyboards, and alto saxophone.  I’ve been in numerous rock-n-roll and blues bands for many years; these days, I have been exploring and performing primarily Brazilian music with two area bands.  I love many musical genres, but my iPod songs that get the most play are classic country, classic rock, cool-period jazz, early alternative, new country, and samba/raggae.

Thank you for indulging me.  Future posts will now be all about YOU:  what sleep problems you may have, how to identify them, how to fix them.  I welcome input and questions, and will do my very best to respond to inquiries and comments as I get them.  I look forward to helping you sleep like a champ.

“I love sleep.  My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” — Ernest Hemingway