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The Gift of a Good Night’s Sleep, Part 1

It’s 4:00 a.m. — Have You Seen My Sheep Anywhere?

Hypnos and Thanatos, Sleep and His Half-Brothe...

Hypnos and Thanatos, Sleep and His Half-Brother Death, an 1874 painting by John William Waterhouse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We all love ourselves a good night’s sleep, and they’re mighty important to our health. It’s been awhile since I had one, though.

Only hours ago I was staring at a clock reading 3:21 in the frigging morning, so I’m feeling mighty qualified to talk about the subject, having had a grand total of 3 hours and 42 minutes of shut eye last night.

Happily–and I mean this–this post scores me another badge task, ’cause every scout needs to understand the value of quality sleep. And since I’ve got a few extra hours this morning before work, I might as well get down to it.


This is how I felt at 3:22 a.m.:

  1. Like an anvil had been placed between my eyes (no, not a result of alcohol).
  2. Like I knew there’s this thing called language, but I had no recollection of how to use it.
  3. Like I’d run a 10K, and I was drenched in the sweat to prove it (more on the pleasure of night sweats below)
  4. Like my husband was lucky to be sleeping, because my default position in any conversation would’ve been hostile sarcasm.

In other words, if you put me next to Charlie Sheen, he’d be the nice one in the room.

Trust me, I looked as lovely as I felt, too. An inadvertent glance in the bathroom mirror was nothing short of horrifying. I looked like I had botched collagen injections in all the wrong places.

There are lots of reasons any of us might lose a good night’s sleep, occasionally or quite regularly. Here are three primo examples:

The Hyperactive Mind: You wake suddenly in the dark, body exhausted and mind racing. You try so hard to will yourself back to sleep but the sheep you should be counting have been replaced by little voices in your head, prattling on about the day before or the day to come. Frustrated and bored, you kick off those covers with pissy conviction and haul your carcass out of bed.

Maybe you decide you might as well put some precious to-do lists on paper (since that’s what was speeding through your grey matter when you woke up anyway), except now that you’re upright at your desk, staring at your keyboard or pen to paper, you can’t for the life of you remember what it is you were supposed to do anymore.

So you make a pot of coffee.

The Young Parent: While I wasn’t blessed with children of my own, I’ve heard the stories, and they aren’t pretty. It’s not bad enough that expectant moms have to sleep with a bowling ball inside them; after that little bundle of joy emerges, s/he insists on eating in the middle of the night, usually from a breast.

I know young dads have their sleep interrupted, too, but let’s face it: moms are doing some heavy lifting out there, on very little sleep. Be glad your mother doesn’t resent you for the lost shut eye and, while we’re at it, don’t forget that this Sunday is Mother’s Day.

The Perimenopausal Woman (hey, that’s me!): Welcome to “night sweats,” which are really just hot flashes that come on with such intensity you wake up drenched. Not every woman gets them, but I do.

All my life I was the one who needed extra blankets, who slept with socks on even in summer. But not anymore. The one that woke me at 3:21 was the second one tonight. It’s been months since I slept a solid six hours. I have a whole set of ice packs in rotation to help me cool down and get back to sleep.

[Brief aside: You know, you’d think that since suffers like me have this bizarre and regular rise in our internal thermometers, it would at least provide some kind of thermogenic boost that would make it easier to lose weight, but no such luck. Another one of nature’s crueler jokes.]


These three sleep disruptors are just the tip of the iceberg. Poor sleep can also be caused by:

  • Medical conditions (such as diabetes, hypertension, or thyroid malfunction), and the medications that treat ’em
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Too much caffeine
  • Exercise right before bed
  • Questionable diet choices (think: meat lover’s pizza at 11:30 pm)
  • Too much light or noise in the bedroom
  • Your partner’s snoring *

Any one of these can be an underlying cause ongoing sleep deprivation (what we typically call insomnia), but there are three other “official” sleep disorders:

  • Sleep Apnea. Beyond snores and snorts, sleep apnea is often characterized by gasping, as if the sleeper has been holding his/her breath then must gasp for air.
  • Narcolepsy. Milder cases may manifest in excessive daytime sleepiness, but when coupled with a loss of muscle control (cataplexy) brought on by heightened emotion or excitement, the narcoleptic will drop on the spot.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome. Think creepy crawlers in the leg, complete with kicking and twitching.

The next post will dive into some of the concrete health problems that come from sleep deprivation or disorders, and I’ll also share some key tips for a more restful night’s sleep.

I’m off to fill the coffee mug and start the day, but let me leave you today with a video of Skeeter, the narcoleptic dog. Don’t worry — no one’s making fun of him.

* For the record, my husband’s very loud snoring would probably sound to most people like an enormous pig giving a speech to all the other littler pigs in the pen. But I’m cool with it–actually comforted by it–and I’d like to tell you why. It might make you feel a little better about the snores coming from your partner at night. 

I read Ann Landers religiously as a kid. One day, a woman asked Ann to help her deal with her husband’s loud snoring. The gal was ready to leave her marriage just to get a decent night’s sleep. Ann gave her two cents, then wisely opened it up for readers to share their own solutions. A few months later, she devoted a column to these responses. The strategies varied: separate bedrooms, earplugs, dietary changes, etc.

But the last letter from a reader broke my heart, and I’ve never forgotten it. Let me paraphrase it for you here: “My husband used to snore so loudly I thought a truck was in the room. I complained about it nonstop to anyone who’d listen. My husband died a year ago, and today I would give anything in the world to hear him snore again. It would be the most beautiful sound in the world, and I’d never ever complain about it again.”

In that moment — swear to God — I knew that if I could find music in a partner’s snores, I knew I’d have found my mate. Yes, Charles snores very, very loudly, but it’s wonderfully rhythmic, not unlike the ocean. It’s incredibly comforting, and when I hear it, I’m reminded that someone I love is near me. 


One thought on “The Gift of a Good Night’s Sleep, Part 1

  1. Pingback: The Gift of a Good Night’s Sleep, Part 2 | The Big Scout Project

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