Sleep Song #5: “Sleeping With the Television On” by Billy Joel

Recently I wrote about my early love for Billy Joel’s music:

The year after my mom bought me his great album 52nd Street in 1979, Joel’s Glass Houses was released, and I managed to get my grubby musical little hands on that album as well, and as I had done with its predecessor, I played it over and over in our basement until everybody in the house was bloomin’ sick of it.

The second song on the the second side of the LP is a happy 3-minute track called “Sleeping With the Television On.”  Here it is, for your listening pleasure.

It occurs to me as I write this that younger readers may be genuinely puzzled by the prelude to the song:  years ago, before “24-hour news cycles” and hundreds of channels to choose from, network television stations “signed off” late at night, following the national anthem, and the viewer would then see snow or some focus pattern until the next morning, when the station would resume its programming.

Anyhow, though this song actually has little to do with sleep, I am nonetheless using it as an opportunity to bring up one point:  many people do sleep with the television on, specifically because of their insomnia.

When you’re tossing and turning in bed for hours at a time, frustration inevitably develops, paradoxically making you feel more stimulated and awake.  This problem is compounded by a natural tendency to try to fall asleep, which rarely works, because you can’t force a biological function to occur just because you want it to, so the more you try to sleep, the more frustrated you get, and the worse the insomnia becomes.

At some point this can drive you completely nuts, and finally you arise from bed in disgust and go to the living room.  You turn on the TV and you lay down on the couch.  You’re now asleep instantly.

Why is that?  Because you’re no longer trying to sleep.  The TV also serves to distract you from the frustration, allowing your body’s natural impulses to become drowsy and fall asleep to take over unimpeded.

Sometimes this phenomenon leads people to believe that they need the TV to sleep, and that they are unable to sleep without it.  Trust me when I say that your body and brain do not biologically require a television set in front of you to generate sleep.  It can feel like they do, however, because, as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, we humans are creatures of habit.  We’re simply used to what we’re used to, and so over time sleeping without the television on after spending years sleeping in front of the TV seems foreign and abnormal.  To me, it’s reasonable to expect that if you managed to learn how to sleep well with the television on, you can learn how to sleep well without it as well.

Below you will see Joel’s lyrics for this great song.  Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Sleeping With the Television On

(written by Billy Joel)

I’ve been watching you waltz all night Diane
Nobody’s found a way behind your defenses
They never notice the zap gun in your hand
Until you’re pointing it and stunning their senses
All night long, all night long
You’ll shoot ’em down because you’re waiting for somebody good to come on
But you’ll be sleeping with the television on
You say you’re looking for someone solid here
You can’t be bothered with those “just for the night” boys
Tonight unless you take some kind of chances dear
Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up with the white noise
All night long, all night long
You’re only standing there ’cause somebody once did somebody wrong
But you’ll be sleeping with the television on
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But your attitude is “don’t waste my time”
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But you won’t hear a word ’cause it just might be the same old line
This isn’t easy for me to say Diane
I know you don’t need anybody’s protection
I really wish I was less of a thinking man
And more a fool who’s not afraid of rejection
All night long, all night long
I’ll just be standing here ’cause I know I don’t have the guts to come on
And I’ll be sleeping with the television on
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But my attitude is “boy, don’t waste your time”
Your eyes are saying talk to me, talk to me
But I won’t say a word ’cause it just might be somebody else’s same old line
All night long, all night long
We’ll just be standing here ’cause somebody might do somebody wrong
And we’ll be sleeping with the television on
Sleeping with the television on
Sleeping with the television on
Sleeping with the television on
Oh, sleeping with the television on

Sleep Song #4, in Honor of Rush’s RRHF Induction: “La Villa Strangiato”

Today is an important day. Not only is it National Sleep Apnea Awareness Day, it is also the day of the 28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Among this year’s well-deserving inductees is my favorite band of all time, Rush.

I won’t bore you with all the reasons why I love Geddy, Alex, and Neil, because seriously I could go on and on and on.  Suffice it to say that I grew up listening to Rush, whose music sparked my creative energies and allowed me to think of and perceive instrumentation and lyrics in new, unconventional ways.  Rush’s music made life even better during good times and pulled me up during bad times.  And my man Neil Peart . . . well, it’s tough to name a better drummer alive today.  Read some of his books and know his history to understand why Neil is a true inspiration to me.

One of Rush’s greatest pieces is “La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence),” from the 1978 release Hemispheres (which still stands as my single favorite rock album of all time).  It is Rush’s first completely instrumental studio recording, though in subsequent years live performances would occasionally feature some vocals from Geddy Lee and, sometimes, various humorous comments from guitarist “Lerxst” Lifeson.  In my strong opinion, this song is a masterpiece.  It is mind-blowingly complex, an auditory nirvana for music geeks such as myself.

Why is “La Villa Strangiato” a sleep song?  It was inspired by one of Alex Lifeson’s dreams.  The song is comprised of multiple movements, which coincide with the recalled dream imagery:

I: “Buenas Noches, Mein Froinds!”
II: “To sleep, perchance to dream…”
III: “Strangiato Theme”
IV: “A Lerxst in Wonderland”
V: “Monsters!”
VI: “The Ghost of the Aragon”
VII: “Danforth and Pape”
VIII: “The Waltz of the Shreves”
IX: “Never Turn Your Back on a Monster!”
X: “Monsters! (Reprise)”
XI: “Strangiato theme (Reprise)”
XII: “A Farewell to Things”

Posted here is a relatively recent live version of the song.  If you’re a modern music fan, however, I strongly encourage you to get your hands on the original 1978 studio version, put on your Big Beat headphones, and get lost in Lerxst’s dream for 9 minutes.  You’ll be glad you did.

Congratulations to my brothers in Rush for finally, FINALLY!, getting the recognition they deserve from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Buenas Noches, Mein Froinds!


Snoring in a Song: My Interview With Eduardo Mendonça


I play alto saxophone and percussion for Show Brazil! here in Seattle.  Originally from Salvador in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, the band’s leader, Eduardo Mendonça, is an internationally renowned and award-winning recording and touring artist, accomplished songwriter, teacher, community leader and benefactor to the Puget Sound area Brazilian community.  His music is played and appreciated worldwide.  He has played for the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II, and Nelson Mandela, as well as audiences all around the world.  I’m honored that Eduardo christened me with my Brazilian name, Maracujá, about which I will write in an upcoming entry.

One of Eduardo’s many great songs is “Vingança,” a live version of which is shown here (from a Carnaval gig we played in 2011).

“Vingança” features both Portuguese and English lyrics.  Here are the English lyrics, which served the basis for a casual over-coffee discussion I recently had with Eduardo pertaining to sleep and snoring.

She left me just because I snore
It is so bad, I sing when I dream
To me it is nothing, it is nothing to me
Boy, I am crazy, please come back to me
Always back, come back to me
Baby, it is hard, come back to me
Yeah, I made my revenge
I scratched up all her pans
She got that stuff from my mother-in-law
Yeah, it was really nice
I broke her porcelain
It is my revenge because she’s gone away
I am so bad

So, here is my interview with my friend Eduardo, who I asked to provide the song’s backstory.

EM: The wife’s left this guy and he’s really mad. He reacts with non-violence. He wouldn’t hit this woman or anything, but he’s mad, and he starts to destroy the things that she likes, like the porcelain given by her mother-in-law, and he feels really compelled to do this. It’s funny; it’s humor. It’s nothing like asking anyone to be violent to solve the problem. I didn’t compose the Portuguese and English together.

MC: So you wrote the Portuguese portion first and later you added the English?

EM: Right, many years later. After I moved to the United States, I was willing to have Americans understand a little bit more about what I was saying.  I was reflecting about how snoring and sleeping problems really can damage any marriage, right? Any relationship. Snoring is in my family. My mother always complained a lot about how much my father was snoring and sometimes talking in the night, and they stayed married for many years until she passed away. She was a hero to keep living with this problem. They slept in the same room and everything, but she complained, I remember she complained. Later I found out I snore as well, though not all the time.

MC: Your wife complains about your snoring?

EM: When I’m really tired, she starts to complain about the snoring, and she reports it to me, like my mother complained, and I saw that it can cause a problem in the relationship. You sleep when you sleep. You don’t have a clue that you’re interfering with somebody else’s sleep!

MC: It’s no fault of your own, but it’s causing distress to your spouse.

EM: That’s where “Vingança” came from.  From my family’s experience, from my experience, and just to alert people: who has the problem? When I wrote this song, “to me it’s nothing, it’s nothing to me.” Of course not, right? Because you don’t know that you’re causing somebody else’s problem. And that’s the humorous part: when you say it’s not a problem, but it is a problem for somebody else. That’s what’s the music is about: just to make people aware that it’s something that needs to be reviewed, something that needs to be treated and talked about, because it does interfere in any kind of relationship.

MC: So he acknowledges that he is doing something that his wife is not liking, and that is a component in what eventually ends up being a dysfunctional relationship that gets worse and worse.

EM: Yes. She left because of that, right?

MC: But did she really leave only because of the snoring?

EM: Only because of the snoring! [we both laugh]

MC: Now, I will tell you that I have had patients that have gotten divorced in large part because of the snoring.

EM: I can believe that.

MC: And it’s not really because of the loudness and the obnoxiousness of the snoring, but because the person doing the snoring didn’t believe it, or didn’t do anything about it. It’s like, “I don’t care that you’re bothered by it; I don’t care.” So I’ve actually had patients that have been in that situation, when they refuse to do anything about it, knowing that it’s bothering the spouse, and then they get divorced. That’s happened!

EM: Yep, that’s my song.

MC: So what that song is then is basically a communication to people that you shouldn’t be ignoring those things, problems that you may not necessarily help, but don’t ignore it, or else your spouse isn’t going to be happy. And it’s humorous on one hand, but on the other hand, it’s deadly serious.

EM: Yes, it’s serious. The song treats a serious problem in a light way, because sometimes we can address some problem–and can make people reflect–not in a drastic way, but with humor. It’s a way to reflect on some cause, that the action that makes that cause can be changed, can be treated, and can be rethought.

MC: You can do something about it.

EM: Right. And this guy didn’t do anything about it.

MC: And he paid a price, because she left.

Obrigado to my old friend Eduardo for bringing some awareness to sleep problems such as snoring!  His music may be found on Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify; Show Brazil! is constantly touring, throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.  I highly encourage you to explore Eduardo Mendonça’s wonderful songs.

What a Young Billy Joel Fan Can Teach Us

I was the tender age of 12 when Billy Joel released his groundbreaking album, 52nd Street, in 1978. His songs were all over the radio, and I fell in love with them. When his tour stopover in Wichita, Kansas was announced, I begged my parents to go. After some inter-parental discussion and to my great disappointment, it was determined that I was too young to attend the show. As consolation, Mom took me to Musicland in Towne East Square and picked up the 52nd Street LP for me to take home and enjoy. And boy did I enjoy it. I played both sides over and over, memorizing every word. “Zanzibar” remains one of my favorite songs of all time. Imagine my surprise and delight when, upon finally seeing a live Billy Joel concert several years ago here in Seattle, he performed that obscure but wonderful piece from 52nd Street; it felt like he played it just for me.

(In the unlikely event that you’re interested, I eventually wore my parents down, and my very first rock concert ended up being Kiss in 1979, a year after 52nd Street was released.)

I am but one of many millions who have loved Billy Joel’s songs over the years. Recently, during a Q and A with Joel at Vanderbilt University, a freshman named Michael Pollack stood up and asked if he would be willing to be accompanied by him on piano on “New York State of Mind,” his favorite song. Joel granted him his wish, much to everyone’s delight, and the musical result was . . . well . . . incredible. Inspiring. Please click on the video above to witness the performance.

There’s a lesson or two to be learned from this brief event, one which I’m sure Michael will never forget. This world is getting smaller, but the number of people inhabiting it is getting bigger. How are today’s young people to survive and succeed with so much competition surrounding them? It’s no longer sufficient to be good at what you do. You have to have guts now. Billy Joel, in his typical east coast nonchalance, said of Michael, “guy’s got chops!” No disagreement there; he killed it on the piano, as you can see. But another quality Michael possesses is just as crucial, if not more so: guy’s got cajónes too. Big ones.

The favor Michael asked of Joel was asked for honestly and audaciously. No one outside his friends, family, and teachers would know who Michael is today if it weren’t for that moment of boldness and risk. It paid off.

We are at a societal turning point here in the United States. Health care is in a major crisis. Regulations, ever-declining reimbursements, minimal autonomy, increasing overhead and malpractice premium costs, mounting paperwork and administrative hassles: it’s becoming more and more difficult for doctors to find success and happiness in their work. This isn’t a whine or a call for sympathy; it’s just factual. My concern is, in a time in which doctors are retiring early or just plain quitting, who of our young citizens will choose medicine as a career in the future? Why should they go through the hassle and put in all that money, time and effort for so little in return?

I’ve been asked recently by high school and college students if I would recommend medicine as a career. My answer was that it really depended on who they are, based on honest self-assessment. There’s a definite analogy I see between the qualities of a successful and happy future doctor and those of Michael Pollack, the Vanderbilt freshman pianist:

1. You have to have passion. You have to really want it, and for the right reasons.

2. You have to be good.

3. You have to have the audacity to work aggressively to get what you need or want, because in today’s way of the world it’s no longer given to you or made easy.

Seems to me that a young man or woman possessing these three elements should be able to weather the current health care storm and carve out a satisfying, fulfilling career in medicine. If any of the three are missing, however, the happiness factor will plummet, I can promise you. A missing link or two may be why there is so much unhappiness and dissatisfaction among doctors right now.

I want people to go into medicine in part, admittedly, for selfish reasons. I want a quality physician to be willing to care for me when I am old. Doesn’t everybody?

So to those kids and teens considering becoming a doctor: do it if you really want it. If you really want it, and if you know it, and if you know what you’re getting into, then go for it. And go for it hard. Not obnoxiously or unethically, but boldly. It takes audacity now to make it in this world. If you ever want a reminder of what that quality looks and sounds like, click on the video again.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Sleep Song #3: “Shiftwork” by Kenny Chesney and George Strait

One thing I’ve always loved about country music is the recurring theme of hard work. Like sweet tea, personal freedom, trucks and cutoff jeans, getting your hands dirty and proudly carrying out your duties for yourself and your family are major topics in country songs old and new. And boy, can I relate.


I can also relate well to the topic of this little nugget from Kenny Chesney (with a little help from “The King,” the great George Strait). Growing up I worked late washing hundreds of thousands of dishes at a restaurant, and as a medical postgraduate trainee I was expected to work not only night call but also “night float,” in which we worked all night for weeks on end.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 15 million Americans work permanently at night or regularly rotate in and out of night shifts. That’s a lot of people. People work the night shift for all sorts of reasons: it often pays better, for example, or they may simply prefer the quieter work environment, or their professions or particular stations in life may leave them no choice. Regardless, many or most of these millions of people suffer from sleep problems directly or indirectly related to the timing of their work.

A primary sleep-related problem for shift workers is fatigue. The feeling of tiredness or drowsiness can be pervasive, and when experienced during work can lead to a host of negative consequences, ranging from substantially reduced productivity to major industrial accidents. Working at night can often lead to falling asleep on the job, reduced attention and concentration, and missed time from work.

Why are such problems so prevalent in night shift workers? The answer usually lies in the difference between their weekly activities and the way we are designed to sleep. Days off from work are precious to night shift workers like they are for everybody else. The problem is, on days off, most night shift workers want to be awake during the day, because that’s when family, home, social, and leisure activities take place for everybody else around them. As a result, they end up flipping their sleep schedules around abruptly, such that now they are staying awake during the day instead of sleeping during the day on their non-workdays.

Unfortunately, your brain isn’t quite that flexible. Your body clock “wants” regularity in its sleeping patterns–which the basis for the concept of “jet lag,” for example–and completely changing your bedtime schedules around by reverting suddenly back to a night-time sleep schedule on non-workdays often or even inevitably leads to sleepiness and reduced quantity and quality of sleep.

No matter how many years you’ve put in work at night, your body clock does not biologically adapt or accommodate for your work shifts if you regularly revert back to a night-time sleep schedule when you’re not working. Instead, you adapt subjectively, accepting a certain degree of fatigue as a regular component of your life, and/or inserting a nap here and there to make up for the reduced sleep, or breaking your sleep times up into 2 or 3 separate parts in a day.

There will be more to say about shift work in future posts, because it’s not only a potential medical problem, but also a major public policy issue. Bottom line: fatigue due to irregular sleep schedules stemming from night shift work is potentially dangerous, decreasing safety at work and putting people at risk.

On that grim note, enjoy Kenny’s song! The lyrics don’t delve directly into sleep issues associated with working the night shift, but the fatigue so many shift workers feel can certainly cause “’round-the-clock pain” and make you feel like a big ol’ pile of . . . shift work.

Have a great weekend, No Shoes Nation, shift worker or not!

(written by Troy Jones)

Shift work, hard work, tired body
Blue collar shirt and a baseball cap
Union made

He’s hot, sweat drops, ’round the clock
Door never locks
And the noise never stops
Not all day
Work seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

Shift work, tough work for the busy convenience store clerk
Two feet that hurt, going insane
She’s mad at some lad
Drove off and didn’t pay for his gas and he won’t be the last
‘Round-the-clock pain
Work seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

I’m talkin’ about a bunch of shift work
A big ol’ pile of shift work
Seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

Well I work shift work,
Ten years man, I hated that work
Then I made a break with the money I saved
It took me to the beach
To have a beer by the edge of the sea
And this ’round-the-clock place
I drank my money away
We partied
Seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

I’m talkin’ about a bunch of shift work
A big ol’ pile of shift work
Seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

Talking about a bunch of shift work
A big ol’ pile of shift work
Seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

Seven to three
Three to eleven
Eleven to seven

Sleep Song #2: “Sleepwalking” by Lyle Lovett

I’ve loved Lyle Lovett‘s music for decades. I met Lyle, quite by chance, in 2006 at the Dallas / Ft. Worth Airport International Airport, my layover between the Bonnaroo and the national sleep medicine meetings. He is the consummate Texas gentleman, pure class both onstage and off. It was an absolute pleasure to get to know him.


Among Lyle Lovett’s many great songs is “Sleepwalking,” from his 1998 album, Step Inside This House. As humorous as this song is (see the lyrics below), Lyle sings with substantial clinical accuracy regarding the mysterious phenomenon of sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism.

Sleepwalking represents a series of complex behaviors that tend to arise from arousals from non-REM sleep. Sleepwalkers walk about in an altered state of consciousness, often appearing confused or “glassy-eyed.” Judgment appears impaired. There can be variable degrees of interaction with their surroundings and with other people. Sometimes interactions with others can be inappropriate above and beyond the apparent confusion; agitation or even violence may occur in this setting. In the morning, upon awakening, they are usually partially or completely amnestic of the previous night’s sleepwalking event.

Because sleepwalking and other related parasomnias (the clinical spectrum of unusual movements or behaviors that occur during or out of sleep) tend to occur following abrupt arousals from deep forms of non-REM sleep (called “slow wave sleep“), it stands to reason that people who have lots of deep sleep at night may be particularly prone to sleepwalking. As such, those who are sleep-deprived or who have preceding insomnia (such as the protagonist in Lyle’s song) can be predisoposed to sleepwalking. Other factors that may increase a person’s risk for sleepwalking would include alcohol use; certain medications; previous head injury and other neurologic disorders; travel or sleeping in unfamiliar environments; and stress. In addition to avoiding these predisposing factors, it’s important for sleepwalkers to do what they can to get proper amounts of sleep each night–thus preventing or minimizing sleep deprivation, which leads to increased slow wave sleep–and keep their sleep schedules regular.

Here, now, are the lyrics to this great song. Enjoy!

(Willis Alan Ramsey)

Last night you know I couldn’t sleep
I was tossing, turning, and counting sheep
To tell the truth
The next thing I knew
I woke up on the outside
In the middle of the avenue

A policeman spied me in traffic there
In my t-shirt and my underwear
He said, “Son, Son
It sure don’t look good
The way you’ve been calling for your baby
All over the neighborhood”

It seems I was sleepwalking
Again last night
The way I was sweet-talking
It must have caused a terrible fright
Last night, you know when I was sleepwalking

Someone saw me at a doughnut shop
I was sitting and crying on a tabletop
It was not a pretty sight
I was out of control
The way that I was carrying on
About my sweet jelly roll

I said, “Officer please
My baby’s got me down on my knees
Lying in bed
Late at night
Sometimes I just go out of my head
At night
And I go out sleepwalking”

Later on, down at the jail cell
I was hoping things would turn out well
Because I don’t recall
That masquerade ball
And I sure don’t remember nothing y’all
About that blown up rubber doll

It seems I was sleepwalking
Again last night
The way I was sweet talking
It must have caused a terrible fright
Last night, you know when I was sleepwalking

So lately I’ve stopped going anywhere
And I’ve taken to sleeping with a teddy bear
It’s a very full and rich
Imaginary life
And it’s sure enough better than dreaming y’all
About any imaginary wife

No more sleepwalking
No more dreamtalking
No more sleepwalking
No more sleeptalking

Sleep Song #1: “When You Dream” by Barenaked Ladies

There are countless songs containing sleep as a theme. From time to time I will showcase some of my more favorite sleep-related or sleep-flavored songs for your enjoyment!

I’ve been a Barenaked Ladies fan for the past twenty years or so. I love their clever lyrics, hook-filled melodies, and frenetic, spontaneous, audience-centric live shows. Plus, their bassist, Jim Creeggan, is an absolute badass on standup bass. I highly recommend their live performances.  I’ve seen them numerous times.  The show that stands out in my memory most was one held in a teeny club in Northampton, Massachusetts, circa 1996. In between songs Ed Robertson called a couple up to the front, and the guy proposed to his girlfriend on stage. While she stood there silent and mortified, the guys in the band all leaned in to hear her response, and they came up with a song in which they chanted something like, “Will she say yes?” Finally she accepted the proposal, and the band busted into a speed-metal vamp, screaming their on-the-spot chorus, “She said yes!” over and over while the crowd went nuts.

So this song, “When You Dream,” is a great tune near the end of their 1999 album Stunt. The singer imagines what his infant boy is thinking about while he dreams peacefully. It’s a wonderfully crafted piece, conjuring many of those fuzzy, fanciful images we think of when we try to recall our dreams.

There is much we do not understand about rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, but REM sleep and dreaming are the focus of very intense sleep medicine research at the moment. I will write more about dreaming in a future post. We know REM sleep has restorative effects and has some role to play in things such as memory consolidation. However, there are still many mysteries yet to be unlocked.

Enjoy!  I can’t find an official video, but click above to hear the song.

Here are the Barenaked Ladies song lyrics (written by Ed Robertson and Steven Page, copyright Warner/Chappell Music):

With life just begun
My sleeping new son
Has eyes that roll back in his head
They flutter and dart
He slows down his heart
And pictures a world past his bed
Its hard to believe
As I watch you breathe
Your mind drifts and weaves
When you dream
What do you dream about
When you dream
What do you dream about
Do you dream about music
Or mathematics
Or planets too far for the eye?
Do you dream about Jesus
Or quantum mechanics
Or angels who sing lullabyes?
His fontanelle pulses
With lives that he’s lived
With memories he’ll learn to ignore
And when it is closed
He already knows
Hes forgotten all he knew before
But when sleep sets in
History begins
But the future will win
When you dream
What do you dream about?
When you dream
What do you dream about?
Are they colored or black and white
Yiddish or English or languages not yet conceived?
Are they silent or boisterous?
Do you hear noises
Just loud enough to be perceived?
Do you hear Del Shannon’s “Runaway”
Playing on transistor radio waves?
With so little experience
You might not get cognizant
Are you wise beyond your few days?
When you dream
What do you dream about?