Why Do Dogs Make Such Good Alarm Clocks?

Like most everyone else, I enjoy the occasional brief distraction from whatever serious thing I’m doing by popping up a quick funny video during breaks. A friend recently sent me this little clip of dogs forcing their humans out of slumber and out of their beds in the morning.

As fun as these videos are, there’s something instructive about them:  they reveal some hidden but important messages about sleep.  Here are a couple things you can learn as you enjoy watching them:

1.  Animals have sleep cycles like humans do.  In fact, even the most primitive creatures on the planet demonstrate some form of simple, behavioral rest with measurable regularity, and usually with timing that relates in some way to the earth’s 24-hour day-and-night cycle.  Why does your dog always awaken you at 6 a.m., including on days in which you want to sleep in?  Probably because she regularly awakens shortly prior to 6 a.m. every day, right in keeping with her body clock, and wants to play.  That’s what our Maltese, Molly, does.

IMG_0812

2.  Your dog awakens you in the morning when you want to sleep in probably because you’re sleep-deprived.  There’s likely not a lot of published literature support for what I’m about to write here, but I would venture to guess that most dogs, not having to toil every day at work or staying out late with the guys, are usually “sleep-sated,” meaning that they get as much sleep during a 24-hour period as their bodies and brains require–through nocturnal sleep and/or by napping during the day when the humans are away.  The amount of sleep a dog needs depends on his age, size and breed.  However, the vast majority of human adults require between 7.5 and 8 hours of sleep per night–and on a regular basis–to feel fully rested during the day.  How many people do you know that get that much sleep per night most or every night?  If you routinely get less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night, chances are good that your body and brain will attempt to “make up” the lost sleep by trying to “sleep in” when they get the chance–on weekends and days off, for example.  In other words, your dog is doing what you should be doing–getting proper amounts of sleep–and he is now on your bed, lapping at your ear to remind you that obeying your innate biological needs is the natural thing to do, the best thing to do.

I say dogs make great alarm clocks:  you can’t get too mad at them, there’s no “snooze” button, and they make sure you know you should wake up and get up not only sonically, but also tactilely:  with paws, claws, and slobber.  Have you ever awakened briefly at your usual time in the morning, following a long period of sleep deprivation and though you intend to sleep in, and wondered why you awakened at that time instead of sleeping straight through?  That’s your circadian rhythm telling you it’s your natural time to wake up.  Look at your dog as a big furry biological clock “by proxy:”  she obeys her body clock every day and wonders why you’re not doing the same.  Just another reason to love your dog:  she can teach you to love your sleep and respect your sleep needs!

Finally, certain dogs, like pugs and boxers (dogs with thick necks) are also predisposed to snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, but I suppose that is a topic for another day.  Enjoy the remainder of your weekend, this first weekend of 2015!  Cheers!

Sleep Well This Summer!

 

Shortly I’ll be on a plane to Wichita, Kansas, for my high school reunion.  Every time I step foot on Kansas soil a flood of great memories returns:  Friday night football games, Knolla’s Pizza, midnight movies, parties, Bionic Burger, the River Festival, Galaga, and, especially around this time of year, the all-important beginning of summer.

 

Where I grew up, summer was all about crowded public swimming pools, Dairy Queen Hot Fudge Brownie Delights, baseball, mowing a huge yard all day every Saturday, hay fever, washing dishes at a restaurant by day, dragging Douglas by night, and listening to the Police and Marillion in my little green 2002.  It was also about hanging out with my friends, and to be perfectly honest I often didn’t sleep as much as I should have.  What did I know?  Sleep deprivation and sleeping in were pretty common during the sweltering, humid summer months of my teenage years.

Sleep often suffers in the summertime.  So before I depart I will leave you with some quick, easy tips to make your sleep easier, better, and more enjoyable during these hot summer months.

1.  Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool.  Insulate your room and windows from noise and light to the extent that you can.  It’s a tough time for many of us financially, but if you are unable to sleep because the room is hot, use your air conditioning; sleeping well is worth the money spent on utilities.  If you can’t fix your hot, light, loud bedroom, try sleeping in the basement.

2.  Strive to keep your sleep schedules regular.  School’s out; loved ones are visiting; the neighborhood BBQ is in full swing; you’re off on a family vacation.  There is always the temptation to party late, sleep in, and not set your alarm clock during the summer.  Your body clock doesn’t care about any of that, however.  A common cause of insomnia and daytime sleepiness is dysregulation of sleep schedules.  Continue to awaken around the same time every morning (if you don’t have to awaken at any one specific time, you would do well to choose a preferred awakening time and stick with it), including on weekends and non-work days.

3.  Mind your late-night alcohol.  Alcohol has sedative effects for the first couple hours after you ingest it.  However, after several hours it tends to be a sleep disrupter.

4.  If you’re a night shift worker, get thick black curtains for your bedroom windows and wear dark sunglasses on your way home from work in the early morning.  Remember:  it’s light out early in the morning and late in the evening when it’s summertime, so your brain can be tricked into making you feel more awake and alert if there is bright light exposure around the time that you should be sleeping.

5.  Avoid late-night exercise.  The release of stimulatory hormones when you exercise hard can last for several hours, causing insomnia.  I recommend that you stop heavy aerobic activity 2-3 hours prior to your projected bedtime.

6.  Take care of yourself.  Don’t sacrifice your health for all that summertime fun.  Obviously, anything that causes physical discomfort can be a detriment to your sleep.  Avoid sunburns and dehydration.  Use nasal sprays or see your doctor for those seasonal allergies.  Minimize hangovers.  Don’t overextend yourself.  And, as I will probably see firsthand this weekend, it’s best to remember you’re not in your 20’s when you’re, uh, no longer in your 20’s, just ’cause it’s summer.

Utilize these simple suggestions and chances are you likely you’ll be able to avoid a . . .

April Fool’s Day Wake-Up Pranks, 2014

Well, Happy April Fools’ Day once again, everyone!

Last year I posted some funny sleep-related April Fools’ pranks:

https://sleephelpdesk.com/2013/04/01/april-fools-day-wake-up-pranks/

To expand on this tradition I’m posting some more humor today.  I present here some of my more favorite sleep-related practical jokes.  This year I’ve had a hard time finding video sufficiently clean to include in this post.  I’ve done my best to screen for language and out-and-out meanness.  As always, do not try any of these pranks at home.

 

Our first gag comes from Japan, land of crazy, well-orchestrated, and televised practical jokes.  The pranks the Japanese show on television would never float here in the U.S., where people sue other people just for looking at them wrong.  This is way over the top, quite literally.  I would hate to be the guy pranked here.  Check it out.

Here is a guy pretending to be so sleepy that he sleeps standing up, leaning in on other people, and generally freaking people out, especially the last guy.  For the record, falling asleep in public places is quite common, though usually not as dramatically as depicted here; people think of narcolepsy when they hear of people falling asleep in public like this, but actually the most common cause of sleepiness is sleep deprivation, such as from pulling an all-nighter.

Anyone who has seen the Japanese or American versions of The Ring will find this instantly familiar and hilarious.  The women who was pranked seemed to take the joke in her stride.

The classic wake-up prank involves an air horn.  There are hundreds of examples of this form of rude awakening on the web.  Here’s a quick one featuring the Burger King!

I also love rude awakenings in the car, particularly the ones that involve screaming and scaring the pants off of the unsuspecting, slumbering passenger.  You know what I’m talkin’ ’bout.  Here’s a nice example:

And here, at last, is my very favorite sleep-related prank video of the year.  It’s short and silent, but hilarious:  for a brief period of time, this man becomes a guitar hero to all who slumber.  Enjoy!

OK, OK, I have to give you one more.  This is a repeat from last year, but it’s so great I have to post it again.  Have a great day!

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.

Football and Bridgegate: People Losing Sleep in the News

 

Last week we were bombarded by the media over the controversy surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie‘s staff and “Bridgegate.”  During his recent press conference regarding this matter, Christie indicated at 2:27 in this video clip below, “I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last two nights, and I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching.”

I want to make clear this is not in any way a political post, and is not intended to defend or criticize Christie or anyone else.  I present this here simply to illustrate one generally well-understood point, which is that emotionally significant life events–whether they be good or bad–commonly cause difficulties sleeping.

There are several potential reasons for this.  First, problematic life events–such as Christie’s–are often accompanied or followed by mood problems and anxiety, both of which can cause difficulties falling and staying asleep.  Depression is commonly associated with insomnia–in particular a phenomenon called “early morning awakening,” in which the depressed person tends to awaken spontaneously several hours earlier than the normal or desired time, with very substantial problems returning to sleep.  Second, anything that you think about in bed that is of emotional value can cause difficulties sleeping, because those thoughts have a stimulating effect which makes you more awake and alert.  The more intense the emotions or concerns (I suppose that would include “soul-searching”), the more psychologically and physically stimulated you can get (an extreme example might be the feeling of sweating and heart-pounding upon hearing devastating news), and this stimulation can cause your insomnia to snowball.

OK, I will add just one brief, slightly political point here.  I wish people in the media would stop calling Christie fat and teasing him for it.  I NEVER use this term in my clinic or socially to refer to one’s weight.  Plus, he’s lost a substantial amount of weight following his gastric lap band surgery last year.  I’ve heard several Christie “fat jokes” on national radio and television programs in the past week.  Really?  Come on, folks, let’s at least be civil, yeah?

Anyhow, in a completely different matter, Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, said in a television interview last week that he hasn’t been sleeping much lately either, but that’s probably because of how crazy his schedule must be right now in addition to the excitement of prepping his team for the playoffs and, now, Sunday’s NFC championship game!  There must be some anticipatory anxiety, for sure, and this kind of emotion certainly can lead to sleepless nights as well, though for reasons quite different from (and in many ways the opposite of) Christie’s.  And hopefully–understand, I live in Seattle–he won’t have any sleepless nights due to game losses in the next several weeks!

Finally, continuing with the football theme, I will leave you today with this recent video clip of ESPN analyst and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka dozing while on air during ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Show.  Keyshawn Johnson had to nudge him awake!  Glad Coach was behind a desk and not behind the wheel at the time.

I have no idea what the circumstances were that led to Ditka’s on-air snooze.  Maybe he was watching George Wendt‘s State Farm commercials over and over late the previous night.

Enjoy the playoffs, everyone, no matter who you’re rootin’ for!

 

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!

 

“You’re Gonna Hear Me SNORE!”

I hope your holiday season has been great so far!  And it’s not over yet!

I recognize I’m posting this video late–it aired originally during the Thanksgiving holiday–but it’s worth posting now anyway; we’re still in holiday mode, after all, aren’t we?, and lots of people eat turkey at Christmas time!  Jimmy Fallon, Rashida Jones, and Carrie Underwood gave a hilarious musical performance about Thanksgiving traditions on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

Please pay particular attention to what Rashida sings 1:29 into the clip.  She parodies Katy Perry’s song “Roar,” singing, “you’re gonna hear me SNORE!”

Drowsing and falling asleep in front of the television or fireplace after a big ol’ hyper-caloric meal are so common, they seem like natural components to our American holiday tradition.  The degree to which L-tryptophan in the turkey triggers an after-dinner snooze is questionable, actually.  However, there are so many reasons for sleep to take you over after a huge holiday meal:  sleep deprivation due to wrapping things up at work; family and friends coming into town; irregular work and sleep schedules; parties keeping you up late; alcohol, particularly when combined with certain medications; underlying medical problems; and undiagnosed sleep disorders.  Untreated sleep apnea, for example, may leave you both sleeping and snoring like a bear in your recliner, disturbing your house guests.

It’s always easier to say than to do, but keeping your sleep schedules as regular as possible and getting proper amounts of sleep during the holidays may well improve your levels of wakefulness and alertness during this time of year and may bring forth even more holiday cheer!  Have a great holiday week, everyone!