Post-Superbowl Insomnia

A cold, bitter rain is falling in Seattle this morning, not the misty, spitting kind we often get in the Pacific Northwest in the middle of winter, but the big-droplet, drenching sort, rain that soaks your clothes, makes you shiver, and causes your kids to catch cold.

The weather reflects our collective mood in Seattle today, as we struggle to process what happened at the very end of last night’s Superbowl XLIX, in which the Seattle Seahawks battled the New England Patriots for the NFL championship and the Lombardi trophy.  In the final seconds of the final quarter, with the Seahawks in possession of the ball, second down and goal, mere feet from the Patriots’ end zone, Quarterback Russell Wilson threw the football instead of giving it to a running back (i.e., “Beastmode” Marshawn Lynch) for a rushing play.  As most everyone knows now, that final play didn’t go very well, resulting in a Patriots interception that sealed the win for Brady and Co. and hammered the final nail in the coffin for our Seahawks.

 

I am doing my best not to turn this post into a commentary about that play, Coach Pete Carroll’s decision-making, and the resulting outcome of the game.  But I will share here that I experienced some, shall we say, emotional intensities in response to Carroll’s authorization to throw that ball, something that surely would have been lauded as a “brilliant play” and a “gutsy move” had it resulted in a touchdown.  Those intense emotions led to . . . you guessed it . . . some sleep-maintenance insomnia last night.  I woke up at 3:16 a.m. and it took a while for me to fall back to sleep.  I’m not alone in this misery.  I’m sure there were a lot of people awake last night throughout the Puget Sound area, and not because of celebrating.  Earlier this morning some colleagues and I were talking about the game in our doctors’ lounge, and my hand surgeon friend told me he had awakened at 3:30 himself!  I strongly suspect Carroll has a number of sleepless nights ahead of him as well.

People tend to awaken in the middle of the night in the setting of intense emotions, particularly negative or traumatic ones.  This phenomenon is called early morning awakening.  Early morning awakening is part of the human condition:  we all experience emotional peaks and valleys as we move through life, and most everyone has had an occasion or two to awaken in response to the peaks and valleys.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  The driver of the problem (in my case, that crazy throw) is the first thing you think about when you abruptly awaken, almost as if you had been thinking about it somehow prior to your awakening, and you turn the thing over in your head, ruminating about what went wrong, setting up all kinds of alternative scenarios, going through the “what if’s,” . . . right?  All of those thoughts and emotions have a stimulating effect, which tends to prolong awake time once aroused from sleep.

What I’m describing is a reactionary or situational form of insomnia which, again, in many respects is simply a result of human nature.  The good news is that in many or most cases, this temporary problem eventually (and usually quickly) fades and resolves as the intensity of whatever it is that you’re ruminating over fades (for us Seahawks fans, the sooner last night’s game is pushed toward the back of the vault of football history the better). However, in some cases, particularly for those with suboptimal baseline sleep habits (poor sleep hygiene), this insomnia can snowball into something more substantial and chronic, called psychophysiologic insomnia, which may benefit from medical attention if severe, sustained, or problematic enough.

I’m sure the intensity of the moment will start fading shortly for me as I delve into this week’s work, but this morning I admit I’m a little bleary-eyed and upset, which is why I was in the doctors’ lounge getting some coffee and commiserating about our loss.  Next year should be a great one.  Watch out for the Seahawks in 2015-16!

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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!