Sunday, 13 July 2008

Cognitive Popcorn

Earlier this week I was getting my biannual pre-holiday pedicure, and I happened to notice an article on sleep in a magazine I was flicking through. (I can't remember the name of the magazine, but it had something to do with "wellness" issues. It was definitely American :)

Of course, the article emphasized the importance of sleep . . . and how many of us are just not getting enough of the Z's. That, I already knew. Sigmund and I are permanently sleep-deprived, and I know we are not the only ones. Just recently, both Barrie and Alyson have blogged about the dreaded insomnia -- and how it is sapping their energy at the moment. I can name three close friends who have spoken to me about the subject, just this week alone. My mother is a more or less permanent insomniac.

What I didn't know is that there is a new term for the anxious brain that never sleeps. Apparently, if your brain is keeping you awake with its restless activity it's not just maddening, it's a syndrome with a cute name: cognitive popcorn.

Last night was a late one -- as we were celebrating the 50th birthday of one of our dearest friends. As I made the morning coffee, an overnight houseguest and I commiserated about how many times we wake during the typical night. He is suffering from stress and a full-blown midlife crisis. I'm not sure what my problem is.


Tomorrow I will be waking up at 6 am to drive to Gatwick Airport to fly to New Hampshire. Even though I am exhausted, I know that I will lie awake tonight, fretting about all of the things done and undone. I know that I will check the clock numerous times, so worried about oversleeping that I will never properly sleep. Because I am excited and anxious both, I know that my brain will be playing the cognitive popcorn game. I love popcorn, but not in my head!


Bitty said...

Off topic: headed to America? Don't forget that Mad Men, season 1, is available now! I've barely cracked it, but it's loaded with special features. I mean, the pilot has TWO SEPARATE COMMENTARIES!!!!!

I've never been able to sleep well. As a child, I'd lie awake in bed for HOURS after being put to bed. I can clearly recall that at age 6, I would stay awake until midnight or more. I remember listening from my bed to the Tonight Show through its end, which was, I'm pretty sure, then an hour and a half long.

I won't go on and on with my lengthy history, but these days I simply don't go to bed until I'm tired enough to fall asleep. For me, that can be 11 pm (rare) or 6 am (also rare). My usual bedtime falls between 1 am and 3 am. I do sometimes wake up too early or in the middle of the night.

My actual falling-asleep issues improved when I started taking melatonin supplements again, but I know not everyone does well with that.

I am convinced -- convinced -- that my body operates on a 26 to 28 hour day, because it likes to stay up 18 to 22 hours, but also likes to sleep 8 or more.

And I have no idea what to do about that.

Alyson said...

Interesting term and I think it describes me to a t! Now every time my husband asks why I've been up all night, I'll just say "cognitive popcorn".

Good luck on your journey to the states! Are you feeling better now? It's never fun to travel when we are under the weather. If you make your way to Connecticut, stop by and say "hello"! :-)

Anne said...

Oh goodness, how I would love to go to bed, fall asleep promptly, and sleep for twelve hours!

There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day. I get up early and stay up late in order to try to get done everything that needs doing during the day, and since even those hours aren't enough, I lie in bed fretting about what I still have yet to accomplish. Extra fretting if work is stressful, money is tight, or it's the night before a race.

The best remedy I've found is exhaustion (lots and lots of exercise). If I'm too tired to think straight, I'm usually too tired to think about what I did or didn't get done that day, and I fall asleep very quickly. The only downside is that it can be harder to get up in the morning because my body wants MORE sleep than usual.

The suitor is a chronic insomniac, in terms of both being able to fall asleep and sleeping through the night. He often takes hours to fall asleep and wakes up for a few hours in the middle of the night. Poor guy. I'm trying to get him to go to the Stanford sleep clinic.

Anne said...

PS: Safe travels! Looking forward to hearing about your trip when you get the chance.

Beth said...

"Cognitive popcorn." What a bizarre name for an affliction so many of us suffer from. I don't have trouble falling asleep - I have trouble staying asleep and wake up at 5:30 a.m. Not a good time to start the day.

Enjoy your trip!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

I didn't sleep well last night either. Too much tea too late in the day!

Have a wonderful holiday. Hope that you get some well-deserved rest.

Kate said...

I'm not good at a lot of things in my life (balancing my checkbook, frying an egg), but I am an exceptional sleeper. Usually, within five minutes of going to bed I am zonked -- and then stay zonked until the alarm awakens me. (I am great with 8.5-9 hours of sleep.)
Now that I'm nearly 43, I suppose the bladder is going to start waking me prematurely, but so far, so good.
Also, I can fall asleep just about anywhere: I've been known to just lie down on the living room carpet to snooze. (I especially like dozing outside in the sun, but only if it's not too hot.) And, I'm 100 percent guaranteed to fall asleep if I am a passenger in a car and no one is talking to me.
I can identify with insomniacs, however. About four years ago I was going through a midlife crisis. Nearly everything was a MAJOR issue. Particularly I had career stress. I wanted to do something spontaneous and somewhat stupid, like open a pie shop. Husband wanted me to teach (read: regular paycheck, teacher retirement fund). Lots of marital clashes. THEN I couldn't sleep.
Thank goodness the sleeping issue has resolved. I was a big-butt cranky sleep-deprived maniac.

Cindy said...

I have been blessed with being able to fall asleep within minutes of lying down. And now that she is 8 months, my baby is pretty good at falling asleep on her own too (once in her bed that is). Only lately she has decided to wake up around 4 or 5 am (teething). This has been interrupting my sleep as I normally get up at 6am. I have experienced cognitive popcorn a few times in my life though (normally big stress times), and I sympathize with all who are afflicted so and wish you a better sleep.

chris said...

The army says you only need four hours to drive a tank, so I figure I'm okay. My minivan isn't nearly as complicated as a tank and it doesn't fire misiles.

chris said...

The army says you only need four hours to drive a tank, so I figure I'm okay. My minivan isn't nearly as complicated as a tank and it doesn't fire misiles.

Lucy said...

Damn, missed you to say goodbye! Have a good trip.

I fall asleep just fine, and when not working or worrying usually stay that way. It's the 3am waking I dread, either because I'm on edge about something coming up, or I've had too much to drink or coffee or any of the above, as I know I'll be awake for at least two hours and, just about exhausted by existential angst and twitchy bladder, ready to sleep again when it'll be time for my 6am wake up from Molly, who thinks she's doing me a service and usually is... anyway, yes usually I sleep the sleep of the just, can't think why. Actually, I think magnesium supplement mught really help...

JaneyV said...

Have a lovely time. I'm a terrific sleeper. it's often staying awake that I have a problem with. The secret is to put all your junk to bed before you go yourself. Sit down, check over what's on your mid and put them all to sleep. if there are no solutions for A or B make the solution to deal with it tomorrow.

Then go to bed with a lovely thought and let your mind drift.


Good Travels!

Nimble said...

I need a lot of sleep and can usually sleep under any circs. I have experienced trouble falling asleep but it's rare.

Sometimes I get into a stupid cycle where 1) I don't get quite enough sleep (1 or 2 hrs less than I need) 2) I work all day and am okay 3) by dinnertime I feel like death and everything up to the kids' bedtime is hard hard hard 4) once I'm released from my evening parenting duties I start to feel better 5) I perk up and get a second wind and start some projects 6) I go to bed later than I should, thus starting the cycle over again.

I inherited the ability to fall asleep from my father. He could lay down at any time of the day and take a 30 min. nap and then get up and go. I think he refined this ability during his soldiering days.

My husband is insomniac and it's like his brain doesn't know how to go to sleep. He often has big myoclonic jerks (those little muscle jumps right when you're falling asleep) that wake him completely. I used to imagine having a teeny tiny magic hammer I could hit him on the head with to make him sleep. There is one thing that will always let him nap -- baseball on tv. Assuming the game doesn't get interesting all of a sudden.

Audrey said...

Sleep is something I excel at. If I don't get a decent nights sleep I nap the next day. Don't mean to brag, it's just not a problem. Conversely, pre-travel anxiety is also something I'm above average in. Well above average. For about 3-4 days before a so-called holiday I'm a mess. Totally.

Have a great trip.

EGE said...

Me, I don't have much trouble falling or staying asleep, but I wake up at 4:30 and can never bring myself to go to bed early enough, so I'm perpetually exhausted. And at 39 I am incapable of sleeping in like I could at 21, even when there's nothing on the agenda. My eyes pop open at 6:00 at the latest, and all I want to do is punch them closed again!

(P.S. I just found you because we both love "The Egg and I." I dig your blog! Have a good trip.)

Bee said...

I just want you to KNOW that I am now the proud owner of my very own Mad Men DVD -- purchased last night from the Saratoga Target. (Or Tar-jay, as we enjoy calling it.)

CANNOT WAIT to indulge in serious Mad Men watching.

Like you, I love to stay up late; "real life," with its insistence on early morning wake-up calls, doesn't suit me at all.

Doesn't that "popcorn" bit remind you of the random though-firing process that takes place when you can't sleep? I must say that I did think of you when I read this article. (Let me be clear: I thought of you in reference to your post about insomnia!)

Although I can't sleep when I have a lot on my mind, my REAL PROBLEM is that I am a light sleeper and Sigmund keeps me awake! Does the Suitor keep you awake with his tossing and turning? Sigmund hardly sleeps at all -- but when he does, he is a snorer and a duvet-stealer. Also, he has this new thing where he makes a strange blowing sound.

I would love to start the day at 5:30 am if I could do that, physically. But the truth is that I really don't feel good at all until late morning . . . sleep or no sleep!

I got eight hours of sleep last night for the first time in months. BLISS!

Bee said...

Ha ha! The Army says a lot of things. However, I regularly operate a Volvo with 4 hours of sleep, so I guess that this one is probably true.

Having had a splendid morning of shopping in Saratoga, I now want to open either a stationary shop or a tea room. Let's talk!

Most of my sleep issues have to do with being woken up too much . . . similar to having a young child! Good luck with teething!

I'm having a GREAT trip. I don't have "much" computer access, really, but I'm borrowing a computer at Skidmore College at the moment. Can't you program Lucy to wake you at 10 am instead? (Maybe that's just me. I always swear that when I don't have to do a school run anymore I am going to change up my hours to 10 am to 2 am.)

Yes, you are probably right. The article did suggest keeping a journal to rid yourself of mental junk.

I have that "cycle" every day of my life! No matter how tired I am, I seem to get a second wind around 9 pm and invariably stay up too late.

I've always wondered what those sudden jerks are called! I get those, too.

Baseball IS a soporific. IMO, of course.

Neither of my kids could sleep the night before we left, either. The little one was up and ready to go by 5 am!

Your pattern is pretty much like my pattern. I can fall asleep; I just can't stay asleep long enough.
I'm always happy to meet another Betty fan!

Bee said...

Make that stationery.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cognitive popcorn - what a brilliant term! Sorry to hear you aren't sleeping well. I have that problem occasionally due to stress, creativity or travel. It can be hard to remember where the off switch is in my brain. Then I'll sleep well for weeks. Hard to figure out. I keep file cards and a pen by my bed as sometimes all it takes is jotting down the thought in the dark.

In NYC I bought Galye Greene's Insomniac. I haven't started it yet but it's a review of the subject and the treatments. Maybe you should look for it when you're in the USA as I don't think it's out in the UK.

Brave Sir Robin said...

Baseball IS a soporific. IMO, of course

Et tu Bee?, Et Tu?