Tag Archives: Sleep

Intermission

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I love a break in the action, no matter what the action is.

An evening of euchre? Let’s take intermission at some point, to finish up all the threads of conversation that were left dangling as cards were played. Let’s cut into that pie.

A good book? Chapters provide an ideal pause. The characters take shape, the tension deepens and the motivations become clearer in the time between putting a book down, and picking it up again.

A play? Intermission is time to get a snack or run to the rest room, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to turn to the folks on either side. A short exchange of “Isn’t this wonderful?!” or “He is hysterical!” and something that was going on between the stage and each individual member of the audience now feels like shared experience.

A major project at work or home? Goals can change once underway. Perspectives are different in the middle of a project than they are at the start. A short intermission, maybe with a cup of coffee or an apple,  allows for an assessment of progress, and a reevaluation of the direction forward.

An evening of watching TV? I swear, my house has never gotten the attention that it did when I had television! There was one evening a week when I liked every show on the air from 7 to 10 PM. That was also my housekeeping night. During every commercial break, I’d jump up and furiously tackle a project: change loads from washer to dryer; wipe down the stove and counter tops; sweep a room; dust a shelf; clean a window. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished in five-minute increments!

There were times that I combined housekeeping night with exercise night. Then, the commercial intermissions were spent cleaning house, and the shows were watched while standing on one foot in “tree pose,” holding a plank position or getting in a few sit-ups. When handled correctly, TV – and the intermissions it provides – can be quite worthwhile!

A meal. I think it’s a good idea to take a little intermission before taking a second helping of anything. Time to reflect on the flavors of the meal. Time to decide if I’m still hungry, or just wanting more because it tastes good. Sometimes I take a second helping anyway, but at least I’ve made myself more aware of my motivation. If I’m over-eating because it is delicious, it’s good to know that, and better appreciate the experience.

Sometimes, eight hours in bed can seem like a very long time. After a couple hours of good sleep, I often find myself wide awake. I used to struggle to fall back asleep, concerned about what the following day would be like if I weren’t rested. It seemed the more I worried about it, the more sleep evaded me. Now, I just take a little intermission. I get a glass of water. I read a little bit, make a grocery list or write a letter. If I simply give in to the need for a pause, sleep comes easy.

Then there are vacations: magical breaks from normal life that shake up our senses and help us to see everything clearer. A change in environment or routine gives a basis for comparison, and helps to clarify what we know. With a little distance from the usual day-to-day sights and sounds, it’s easier to appreciate them, on return.

Most days, I enjoy whatever I’m doing. Still, I think every experience is made better by a little intermission!

 

 

A Path to Happiness

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I was sleeping so soundly at 2AM, when the little dog decided she needed to go outside, I could hardly drag myself out of my slumber. Rosa Parks was fairly frantic by the time I made it to the door. I closed my eyes and leaned against the door, waiting for her to finish. Immediately, when she came back inside, I went back to bed. I wanted to go back to sleep. I wanted to be back in the center of the good dream – something about horses…and dancing…and spelling – that was still playing ’round the edges of my mind.

But, no. Though I could have slept, I’m sure, standing up, with my cheek pressed against the cold glass of the door, now I could not sleep. Always, in those times, there is plenty to think about. I run through the events of the past day, both in my life and – lately – in politics. I worry; I fret; I distract myself with my “to-do” list. That is overwhelming enough to make sleep impossible. Finally, I get out of bed.

I turn on the computer with good intentions of doing some necessary writing. I am drawn into “breaking news” and political headlines. I pull myself away from that with engagement in time-wasting word games. Soon, I am ready to try to sleep again, having foiled my good night’s rest and not accomplished one single productive thing.Then, wrapped in my fleecy robe with both dogs crowded on the couch with me, I slept late.

Immediately on waking, my mind is flooded with all the things I need to do today. And already it’s 10AM and why, why, WHY  do I continue to sabotage my life like this, so that I always seem to be on the sheer face of a cliff, fighting my way upward through a blizzard…WHY is it never just easy??  I make coffee. Turn on the computer. Check my Email.

The first thing I see, right on the first line of my in-box, is “This Is How To Have A Happy Life: 4 Proven Secrets From Research.” I pour a cup of coffee. I sit down to read. It is not an invitation to a weeks-long on-line seminar to unlock the secrets of happiness. It is not an effort to sell a book. It turns out to be a not-too-long, well-researched article with good advice.  And, as it happens, exactly what I needed this morning! Thank you, to whatever gods of internet content sent this to me!

The article, written by Eric Barker and published on his “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” newsletter, draws heavily from the book Authentic Happiness by  University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman. He suggests that there are four choices of happy lives:

  • The Pleasant Life: a life that successfully pursues the positive emotions about the present, past and future. Schedule more fun.

  • The Good Life: actively doing stuff you’re good at and getting lost in it. Trying to improve your skills. Accomplishing goals. Go as far down that rabbit hole of “flow” as you can, Alice.

  • The Meaningful Life: using your signature strengths and virtues in service of something larger than you are.The Good Life + helps others.

  • The Full Life: experiencing positive emotions about the past and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths, and using these strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning. Enjoy the pleasures of life, leverage your skills, seek flow, and use it to help people.

The Full Life might sound like a lot. It might sound hard because of formal terms like “signature strengths” and intimidating concepts like “meaning.” Don’t let any of that stuff scare you off. Just try this:

  • Every single day, do something that makes you smile.
  • Every single day, do something you’re good at.
  • Every single day, make sure your efforts help someone else smile.

That’s all it takes to start living the happiest life there is.

And that’s just what I plan to do!

Awake

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It goes like this.

I come home from work. I walk the dogs. If I’m too tired for a walk, or if Rosa Parks is unwilling to walk, or if there are hunters in the woods or high winds that could topple trees, we may, instead, take a drive down to Fox Lake. There, I can sit at the water’s edge while the dogs romp around. We walk down the little trail until it fades into the shoreline, then back through the trees to the car. I drive home slowly, windows down, to give the dogs the fresh air.

Home, I hang up my jacket, empty my lunch bag and clean the thermos. I may start a load of laundry, take the papers out to burn in the fire pit, or bring the compost to the garden bin. I prepare my evening meal. The dogs get their dinner between 6:30 and seven o’clock, then I sit down. I usually have a book or magazine to read while I eat. Or – I’m not proud of this – I eat in front of the computer while watching a program.

Cleaning time is next: I set the timer for thirty minutes. First, put the dishes in the sink and cover them with hot, soapy water. If I’ve left dishes to dry in the drainer (almost always), I put them away. Some laundry chore is next: clothes to fold from the dryer, or clothes to move from the washer to the dryer. Then, depending on the day of the week, I’ll sweep through the downstairs, clean the bathroom, vacuum the rug, wipe down the appliances or dust. Bigger jobs, like changing bed linens, washing windows or cleaning out the refrigerator, always wait for a day off. I wash up the dishes then, and wipe off the counters before the buzzer signals that I am done.

After that, the news-magazine gets my attention. At any given time, there are notes to write up into articles, stories to edit and others to write, reminders to fill out and stamp for mailing, invoices to do, letters to answer, bills to pay, filing…the demands are never-ending. Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed, sorry for myself and resentful (didn’t I work all day, after all, and don’t I deserve a break?), I will shelve every task and watch another episode of NCIS, or take a bath, or write my personal stuff. Most days, though, I dutifully plod along, making steady progress, until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.

I’m usually in bed by ten o’clock. I read for a few minutes, then turn out the light. Then, if I’m very lucky, I fall right asleep, and get a few hours in before my mind starts working again. Sometimes it starts right away: the little note I got from a co-worker, that hinted at displeasure; the work I left undone, spread over the dining room table; the Email I neglected to answer; the meeting I attended that I’ve haven’t written up…or the one coming up that I’m trying not to forget.

Whether I’ve slept a little or not, by two AM, I’m usually wide awake. The dogs often like to go out then, so I have an excuse to abandon my frustrating struggle with insomnia, and pace the floors for a while. I may have a cup of herbal tea; sometimes I try to work; often I read a bit before trying, again, to get some sleep. I know that even an hour or two of good sleep will be better than none at all.

If I can’t sleep, then, I become obsessed with the time. If it’s only four o’clock, I think, it will be worth it to try for a couple hours sleep before the alarm sounds. If it’s five o’clock or later, I’d might as well get up and make coffee. Don’t look at the clock, I tell myself, and don’t think, just sleep. I rarely listen, though.

I’m awake.

And on, to another day.

Give Me Rest

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I had a little cold last week, with cough and sniffles and sinus headache. I don’t get sick often, and I’m not very good at it. Don’t get me wrong, I like laying around doing nothing just fine if I’m feeling well. Laziness is one of my strongest personality traits. I just hate feeling lousy. And if I feel too rotten to write, read, draw, play word games or watch movies, I’d might as well get off the couch and do something productive.

So, my strategy, when I’m sick, is to plod through it as well as I can. It usually involves drugs: a non-drowsy capsule to eliminate the symptoms during the daytime, and a heavy-duty night-time cold medicine at bedtime. Add to that lots of hand-washing, hot tea and cough drops, and my life goes on pretty much like normal. Until the virus goes away, and I have no reason to continue to take the night-time cold medicine, and I discover that I have forgotten how to fall asleep without it.

I know…it’s scary that I could become dependent on a simple over-the-counter medicine in five days. Six, because that last night I convinced myself, after lying awake for two hours, that I still had enough of a sniffle to warrant it. But enough is enough. If I had the inclination (or the income!) to live my life in an altered state, I bet I could find something that would bring me better results than just a drug-induced sleep! And the fact is, I’m not crazy about drugs of any kind.

I take two prescribed medicines daily. When I feel my back going into spasm, I am quick to take ibuprofen. I don’t hesitate to grab the aspirin for a headache. If necessary, I take stronger, prescription medicines when my back goes out, or when other ailments demand it. That’s it, though: what I need, only when I need it. I know that all drugs have side effects, and they often out-weigh the benefits. If it alters my state of being, I don’t trust it.

I don’t like being in an altered state. Well, a glass of wine now and then, with dinner, sure. A beer, when I’m doing yard work. I’ll even have a cocktail or two, occasionally, with friends. Never, though, to the point of intoxication. I don’t like that feeling of being out-of-control. I hate it when my back gets to the point – not often – when I have to take the strong, prescription pain medicine and muscle relaxers. They keep me groggy when I’m awake, and make me sleep most of the time. I think any sleep that is brought on by drugs or alcohol is not a truly restful sleep.

So, now that I’m over my cold, I am determined to get back to a “normal” sleep routine. Which involves enough middle-of-the-night work and worry sessions already, thank you. Now, added to my usual restlessness, I am fighting the difficulty of not being able to fall asleep without my nightly dose of cold medicine.

I go to bed at my regular time. I force myself to stay there. If I must do something, I turn on the lamp and read for a bit, before going back to tossing and turning. I am thrilled if the dogs need to go outside, as it gives me an excuse to get up and pace for a few minutes, to try to quiet my mind. Usually, in the early morning hours, I finally fall into a deep sleep. I wake up reluctantly when the alarm goes off, and plod through another day, tired from lack of sleep. It’s just a matter of time, I know. Eventually, my body will readjust, and I’ll be able to get some good rest!

Good Morning!

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The snooze button was my friend this morning. Though it offers only a five minute respite before the alarm sounds again, I used it. Every time I did, I told myself, “the next time the alarm goes off, I’ll get up.” Every time, it seemed like that five extra minutes of sleep would make a difference. It kind of did, too, in the end. Not one five minute snooze, but the total 40 minute rest that I got between the alarm sounding and me hitting the snooze button seems to have done it. I feel well rested and ready to tackle the day.

It amazes me, first, that I can wake up, grope for the alarm, find the snooze button, replace the alarm on the bedside table, and fall instantly back to sleep. Over and over. In years past, I would get up to the alarm, stoke the fire in the wood stove (which often involved starting fresh with paper and kindling, if the coals had burned away), fill the coffee pot and start it brewing, turn on the electric  heater in the bathroom, then reset the alarm for an additional fifteen minutes of rest. By the time the alarm sounded again, the coffee would be ready, the fire would be working on warming the house, and the bathroom would be toasty warm. Sometimes, the best and sweetest sleep of the entire night was in that fifteen minutes stolen from the morning.

One interruption of my sleep in the middle of the night, and I am often up for hours. If the dogs need to go out, I barely open my eyes  as I maneuver down stairs and around furniture to open the door. I can make it to the bathroom, too, without ever turning on a light. I know that if I allow myself to become more alert, it will be a long time before I’m able to get back to sleep. That is not a problem in the morning, it seems. Then, any little bit of extra time snuggled in bed is a bonus!

 

Asleep, Awake

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My mind works overtime. When I’m trying to fall asleep, no matter how exhausted my body is, my brain is busy. I run through all the things I should have done and yet need to do. I make lists and plan schedules. I have imaginary conversations. Busy, busy, busy. Until I get out of bed, determined to accomplish enough of something to put my mind to rest.

Then, I’m tired. I can’t think. I can’t focus. I am overwhelmed by the number of things there are to do. Impossible to tackle them all. What one thing can I get done, so that tomorrow, there will be one less thing to face? What will be enough of an accomplishment to make up for the sleep I’m missing? These are my nights.

Sometimes, with a cup of herbal tea, I do some writing. Maybe just a list to help organize my thoughts, or a bit of correspondence, always overdue. Sometimes I’ll tackle a news article, an essay or a blog post, though I’m rarely an inspired writer in the middle of the night. Other times I’ll take on bookkeeping. I may balance my checkbook and pay some bills, or work on the never-ending record-keeping that goes along with the Beacon. Sometimes, I clean.

Too often, I turn on the computer under the guise of working, and instead just waste time. I’ll check the news, then the weather. I’ll see what’s going on in social media. I’ll play a computer game…or two. No matter how unproductively I spend my time, though, it is still not actual rest. The next morning I am tired, with little to show for my lack of sleep.

At night, I am worrying and working over in my mind all the things I need to do. In the daytime, I am fog-brained, sluggish and less productive than I could be if I had gotten a good night’s sleep. This is my dilemma.

 

Monday, Monday…

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A cloud of sadness – instead of sleep – came over me last night, and stayed.

I’ve been here before. As someone who has dealt with depression throughout my life, I am fairly clinical about it. Sometimes it’s an imbalance issue; sometimes a true and good reaction to what life hands out.

I look to possible reasons. Lack of sleep or exercise, tiredness, and a feeling of being overwhelmed could all play a part. There is also the “teeter-totter” effect.  When my mood is chipper almost to the breaking point, when everything seems perfect and I laugh harder than I’ve laughed in years…I can expect that the balance will shift, and I’ll want to cry.

I’ve just finished a five-day work cycle. Business has been brisk, and the hardware was a little under-staffed. In addition, I’ve had meetings and interviews, writing, bookkeeping and banking and a dozen other extracurricular activities. I’m tired. I’m behind in everything. I don’t know which task to tackle first. Of course, I can’t sleep!

Two dear friends lost their mother yesterday. I know how devoted these brothers are to their family, and what a wonderful presence their mother was in their lives. Feelings of sympathy combine with empathy, and the loss of my own mother – almost five years ago – is brought right up to the present, as my heart goes out to them.

I had a meeting last evening, with a lively, young and beautiful family. We talked and laughed and exchanged ideas. Their life looks much  the way I expected my life to be like when I came here with my family nearly  forty years ago. The long list of things that changed the course of those plans could cause anyone a bit of melancholy. Also, as often happens in those circumstances, I shared more personal information than I am comfortable with. I was cringing about that, by the time I got home. Finally, the outcome – though not bad – was not exactly what I’d hoped for. Any of these things could have contributed to my change in mood.

I know the things to do, to lift the cloud of depression. There are baby steps to help alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed. I make lists, finish one task, create a plan. There are distractions that sometimes work. At three o’clock this morning, I made a cup of tea and watched a movie. At five o’clock I decided that a few hours of sleep – if sleep would come – would be better than none at all, and I took to the couch.

Now, here is Monday.

 

 

Rain

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Last night, it rained. Boy, we needed it!  Though it seems the snow has just barely disappeared, things are dry here on Beaver Island.

I recently re-typed a notice from our fire chief, explaining the reasons (less overall snowfall, for one) and warning about the increased fire danger. With all the dry brush, and all the dead and dying beech trees, a blaze could quickly get out of control. This rain will help.

Spring seemed to be on hold, waiting for a rain. Though trees are in bud, the leaves are slow to open. Yesterday, finally, my forsythia burst into yellow blooms. My little species tulips opened up. I’ve been watching my rhubarb hedge closely, anxious for the first, tender stalks. Though it showed bright red at the ground level, there was no growth. This morning, I can see from my window that the stalks have pushed up, and the leaves are unfurled. The entire lawn looks, suddenly, like it needs to be mowed.

I never sleep so well as I do when it’s raining. My sleep has been fitful and scattered for weeks, my mind filled with too many lists of things that need to be finished, and concerns  about how to manage my time to get it all done, to allow good rest. I was thinking last week, up to stay at 3AM, how I was becoming accustomed to getting no more than four or five hours of sleep at night. Not last night!

I slept like a baby, through the whole rainy night. When the alarm went off this morning, I tagged the snooze button and went right back to sleep. Then I did it again, and again. When I finally got up, well-rested and good-humored, I could see that – barring a miracle – I would once again be late for work.

Well…I guess I can blame the rain!

 

Off-Track

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I like to get my writing done early. One good thing finished right off, before I get busy with my day. No stress about finding time to do it later, no worries about forgetting about it. It doesn’t always work out. Today is one of those times.

Last night, I went to bed early and slept all through the night. There was no moonlight writing and tea-drinking so, my daily blog was not yet done when I got up this morning. I did not get up early enough to have extra time.  Taking time to write would have caused me to be even later for work than usual, so I didn’t.

I did stress about it a little bit, while I was working at the hardware store. I had a big rearranging project going on there. It involved moving shelves and much ladder climbing. I thought I might be ready to collapse by the time I was done. I did a little composing in my head as I worked.

Turns out, I was not as exhausted as I thought I would be. It was a beautiful, warm day, though, with lots of snow melt. As soon as I got home, Rosa Parks and I went for a walk. Now I’m tired. Too tired, at least, to tackle the writing I was going to do. My move to Beaver Island will have to wait.

I have a good book started. I think – since I’m already off-track – I may just let everything else go this evening, too, and just read.

Here is Saturday

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Night before last, I couldn’t sleep.  I tossed and turned. I fretted. I wrote letters in my head, held imaginary conversations and stumbled over problems and possible solutions. When worry brought me to the verge of a panic attack, I assessed my symptoms to rule out heart attack. Finally, I got up and made tea. Paced the floor. Fretted some more.

When I was much younger, I often stayed up all night. Sometimes it was worry that caused it; often it was just wanting time to myself, to finish a project or read a book. Now, though my thoughts will often drive me out of bed to walk and think and drink herbal tea in the middle of the night, it is rare when I get no sleep at all.

It’s funny, though…I think I function better now, without sleep, than I did twenty years ago, when a sleepless night would have required a day at home to make up for it, or a day of barely functioning at work.

I was tired yesterday, no doubt, but did not even consider calling in sick to work. For one, we are short-staffed, and if I were home sick, someone else would pay for it, either in having to work alone or having to come in on a day off. Second, I can’t afford to miss work. At this time, this job is contributing to several other endeavors that are not paying their own way. It is also paying my bills. Third, still stressed out, nerves on edge, a day at home would not fix the problem. If I slept, my schedule would be even more messed up; if I didn’t, well…I’d might as well be at work.

Though I was dragging – in body and spirit – I went to work. I took care of customers and answered the phone. I was not cranky. I did some office work to get a pile of discontinued and old merchandise off the current books and out of the way. I put away a new shipment of dog food. I cut glass. I took a short break to go to the post office, bank and re-sale shop.

I picked up some necessities for Aunt Katie and dropped them off on my way home. We had a good visit. Home, Rosa Parks and I went for a short walk through cold rain. I deposited the mail on the desk, fed the little dog and tidied the kitchen. I had cereal and milk for supper. The box toppled, and spilled  cereal onto the floor. Rosa Parks looked pleased, and able to handle it; I didn’t go for the broom.

I was in bed by eight o’clock, nodding off over my book within minutes, and had the lights off   by eight-thirty. Sleeping well.

Now, here is Saturday.