Tuesday, July 7

Gnarly Dreams from Sailors

First Canoe Trip, fast asleep, life on the water
Hiding eyes to sleep together
If I ever decide to crew on an another boat, knowing the crews' training, idiosyncrasies, and sleep irregularities are essential for a safe and fun journey versus dangerous and scary.  Since everyone sleeps or naps in shifts, watching another sleep can be a real education about problem sleepers.  Whether it is sleep apnea, dream enactment (RBD), sleep talking, sleep paralysis, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, lucid dreams, or insomnia affects the lives of the other crew.

As a light sleeper I am really impacted by another's sleep disorders.  My exposure to sleep apnea is funny and frustrating story.  JT and I were visiting the high elevation of Colorado with a few couples, and we had to share a room with another couple.  Well I do not remember if I ever feel asleep that night.  Our friend began snoring so loud and so long that I thought the walls were cracking and the mountain was shaking.  How can such a quiet person snore that loud?  He would stop for a few seconds, and then another bomb would be dropped.  I could not take it.  I walked outside the motel in the cold air just for peace and quiet for an hour.  Finally I went back in.  JT asked "where I was?"  As the explosive snoring continued, I told JT that I could sleep in the car.  The snoring changed to a loud fart, and he stopped snoring.  We laughed so hard that my cheeks hurt.  I don't remember the rest of the evening.

My most recent disturbance was sleep paralysis.   The other weekend I had an uncured hot dog with 250 mg of sodium before bed.  That was enough to affect my sleep, and had to sit up most of night.  In the V-berth I fell asleep hanging over a pillow at a 45 degree angle.  Come sunrise I was awake but could not move.  Well my eyes, my privates, and my diaphragm could move.  Seconds went by.  I tried all the things that I learned from my neuroscience class about the brain with atonia (paralysis).  I made 3-4 loud grunts by pushing air from my diaphragm to wake JT for his help.  He thought that I was just dreaming.  Finally it wore off, and I was able to move.  That was scary and cool since I had just studied this disorder.

In a 2005 Outside Mag article Dr. Claudio Stampi "teaches endurance sailors how to perform better on minimal sleep.  The secret, he says, is learning how to power-nap." Polyphasic sleep for long distance single sailors and understanding chronobiology focuses on switching on only REM sleep (the latter stage).

Keeping your body in a set circadian rhythm (average 24.5 hour internal clock located in suprachiasmatic nucleus of hypothalamus, expression by genes CLOCK and BMAL1) will maintain a wealthy weight, prevent cancer, improve mood, and maintain health.  Sleep education is an essential study that all children and adults must learn and practice.

Tips to improving your sleep on the boat

  1. Use ear plugs and night shade
  2. Color of light (blue light hours before bedtime disrupt melatonin and sleep, but red or orange light like a sunset helps activate melatonin hours before sleep.)
  3. Air temperature of 60-66 up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, body temp drops 1-2 degrees
  4. Avoid caffeine four hours prior to sleep
  5. Try lemon balm
  6. Smell Lavender oil
  7. Evodia berries, can counteract the effects from caffeine (first time users = adrenline rush)
  8. Big firm pillow and semi firm mattress or foam over the v-berth cushions.
  9. Exercise in the morning or afternoon, not evening
  10. Stop eating fatty foods and highly salty snacks at night
A drop in adenosine (ATP, ADP) in the brain increases the sleep drive

Here is another sleeping story, once believed to be a cross between sleep walking and Nightmare on Elm Street, but after my recent brain class, it is a whole lot more.

REM Behavior Disorder (RBD):  JT and I were on our first date in New Orleans with another couple sharing a room.  The girl feel asleep one night, ran out in the hallway, and began banging on someone else's door.  Luckily they sent her away and found her at her door dreaming and crying. She woke up and didn't know why we put her outside.

Decades ago I learned about this sleeping disorder from a friend. Sleeping soundly on my stomach in my bed, a water mattress, I was unaware of what soon was to leap on my back, not a cat.  The sun was rising over the tall pine forest with light shining in my window. Suddenly an unnatural overwhelming weight was bearing down on my small frame. I am not a trampoline!

My friend, twice my size, had jumped on my back. I found whatever air left in my depressed lungs to scream, 'GET OFF!!' With knees and tibia firmly placed across my backbone, my companion began to wake up. Again I screamed “OFF!” Finally hopped off.

What had just happened. I was just introduced to sleep jumping. My friend was unaware of what had happened. But these sleeping encounters and sleep talking continued to randomly occur for four years until our last encounter.  While visiting, again I awoke in the early morning hours to screams of “I'm f*^king leaving.” I awoke and realized that we had not been fighting.  I said to wake up and go back in bed.    A few seconds my friend returned to bed. As an avid alcohol drinker, I just blamed the alcohol.  May have been caused by a fall years before.

What neuroscience research says, that if someone has an injury or disease in the brain to area above the medulla oblongata, with lesions on the pons, then the brain will not switch off signals to the body when dreaming (without atonia).  They may act out their dreams sometimes violently.  The lack of glycine and GABA contacting the pontine prevents the paralysis during REM sleep.  Having someone untreated with RBD on board can endanger the crew and themself especially if they run and jump off the boat in the middle of the sea.  I am concerned about long term health problems that could develop

Lucid dreams (conscious of dreaming) may not be considered a disorder.  Except for the fact that in my teenage years, my dreams were so realistic.  I could not tell the difference if I was dreaming or awake.  The dream test was if I could fly.   I would become aware that I was dreaming and consciously change my dreams.  Over the years it wore off.

During my insomnia I write, research, and write.  I have found some of the most interesting discoveries during insomnia waiting hours before I can share.

If a crew member has narcolepsy and on watch, they could fall asleep at the helm when something exciting is happening called cataplexy.  May need another person watching them.   I love the Stanford U study of the dogs with narcolepsy (gene mutation) that would pass out every time dinner or a ball is thrown.

A healthy, normal sleep has 4-5 stages of sleep with a mean 90 minute cycle, 3-5 times a night. The longest period of REM is the last stage before waking up.  The 4 non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stages and rapid eye movement (REM) stage are having their necessary places to boost memory, remove waste (stage 3), replenish energy, and recharge for the day.  The purpose of sleep is still researched and debated.

Secretly the best way that I have found to fall asleep is to listen to one of the many neuroscience lectures on ituneU from various fine universities.

Examine more on Sleep in TV show Brain Games or NOVA, episode on sleep.

Sleep and Health Education through Harvard Medical School

Sleepwalking with Me, movie by Mike Birbiglia
Sweet dreams to Bud and Whitley

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