Articles

Sleep, Health, & Difficult Choices

Last week I read an article in The Guardian about a neuroscientist and his two decades of studying sleep. The salient points of the article (for me) include a drop of 70% in your cancer-fighting killer cells and a much greater risk of Alzheimer and Dementia for those who consistently get too little sleep. That, and the fact that the less you sleep on a consistent basis, the less capacity your brain has to perform the “scrubbing” operations it needs to in order to keep your brain clear of amyloid deposits. And you can’t ever get that capacity back. It just keeps getting worse.

Will science eventually figure out some way to scrub out those deposits and restore our “brain-cleaning” abilites? Maybe. I dare say that if they do though, it’ll come with trade-offs in the form of side effects that are potentially as harmful, which is how most medicine often ends up working. Thing is, they might not too, or maybe not in time for me personally to benefit from it.

In any case, better to prevent as many health problems as possible, rather than count on medical science to “save” us later, methinks.

I’ve been getting 4.5 hours of sleep per night for…well, several years, at least. According to the article, anything less than 7 hours is considered sleep-deprived, and your brain doesn’t even start that deep cleaning until you’re in the last part of the 4th consecutive sleep cycle (so, the end of 6 hours). 7.5 hours would be 5 sleep cycles, which is optimal for brain health, so the article suggests.

How much damage have I already done? Hard to say…but probably a lot. When I read the article, I decided I needed to take action immediately – as in, that very night.

It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out how to rearrange my evening and morning schedules so I could still have some writing time, and yet get 6 hours of sleep. Those of you who already sleep 6 or 8 hours are probably wondering why it’s so difficult, but both my mornings and evenings are on a very tight schedule, and in between is the workday. I only really have an hour every evening of “free time”, which I spend watching TV with my husband. Everything else is scheduled by default, from dinner to dog walking to cleaning the kitchen at night and dog care/getting ready for work in the morning.

We all have priorities, of course, and I’ve chosen to make health a big one of mine. So things like cooking dinner (from scratch) 4-5 nights a week, walking the dogs (which is also one of my workouts) and ten minutes of yoga every morning are important to me, and need to stay priorities. Spending that time with my husband is too. Which means the only negotiable thing left is…writing. And I only had an hour every evening and half an hour in the morning scheduled for that.

One full sleep cycle.

So, I started looking at everything I do and trying to figure out how to make it tighter. More efficient. I managed to consolidate some things into little snippets of quarter hours here and there between other things. I banked on the fact that sleeping more would enable me to get going faster in the mornings so I wouldn’t need the time I normally do just to “wake my brain up” (20 minutes). I banked on the fact that more sleep would equal more motivation, and stacked my schedule tighter. And I figured out how I could get to sleep by 12:30am (to bed earlier…12:30 is the time I have to be asleep by) and get up at 6:30am most days and still have an hour of writing time most nights. Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are all anomalies…I’ll have to shorten my writing time on Monday night to get up earlier to make the Tues staff meeting (have to be at work an hour earlier than normal). Friday nights are normally my “business hours” for publishing, and now those have to be cut short by a couple of hours due to needing to sleep 6 full hours before I get up to feed the dogs, and I’ll have to figure something out for Saturday nights too, since that’s my manicure night and I’m normally up very late (sometimes 4am).

Making the decision to sleep for 6 hours is hard for me on a lot of levels, but one of those is that late at night, when everyone else is sleeping and the house is quiet is my favorite time of “day”. I’m an introvert, and I need time alone, and that’s really the only time I can be guaranteed that no one will need anything from me for hours at a time. Friday and Saturday nights when I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, by myself, just getting stuff done or doing things specifically for me…it’s a very relaxing, rejuvenating time. Giving that up is difficult, and stressful. I’ll need to figure out how to get some of that “me time” back when everyone is awake. But if that were easy, I’d have done it quite awhile ago.

And of course I need to figure out how to get the business-y stuff I was doing late Friday nights done at other times, and how to get my manicure done in less time so I can get to bed earlier on Sat nights. Both are still works in progress. I tried finishing up marketing/promo stuff this past Saturday morning after I got up (since I was up earlier due to the new sleep schedule), but just getting up earlier doesn’t make me more able to function in the morning – I’m still a night person, and my brain still doesn’t really “work” before 9 or 10am – no amount of sleep is going to help that. Those are hard-wired parts of my personality, so it’ll take some time to work the weekend schedule around the dogs and husband and everything else so I can still keep up with bookkeeping and marketing and all the other non-writing book-related tasks that need to be done. I failed this Saturday night/Sunday morning, and was up until 4am again. I still got 6 hours of sleep, but it wasn’t consecutive – there was a half-hour “up” time in the middle to feed the dogs and let them out. But now I have a whole week to figure out how to get my Saturday nights more consolidated.

Of course next Saturday night we’re going to a concert. And a couple weeks after that, a masquerade party for Halloween. So Saturdays might be my downfall for awhile. Hopefully getting more sleep every other night of the week will offset those. I’ve read various articles on Alzheimer’s studies that say preliminary findings indicate that coconut oil and curry (turmeric, cumin) can help remove those amyloid blockages as well, and I make turmeric paste for the dogs occasionally (turmeric, coconut oil, black pepper & water), so perhaps I’ll make sure to get some turmeric milk or curry in here and there throughout the week too. I do love curry…

I should mention that this past Weds, Thurs and Friday were some of the most clear-headed days I can remember having in a long time. Good focus both at work and later at home, no brain fog, I didn’t need that extra 20 minutes in the morning just to get my brain to function…it was a definite improvement on all levels. So while I can certainly “function” on 4.5 hours of sleep, I’m operating on a serious mental deficit there that I didn’t even recognize in myself until I made the change and paid attention. Kind of scary, when you think about it.

So, more sleep is the name of the game at the moment. Here’s to getting more zzzz’s in our lives (or mine, at least)…

That Could Cause Cancer, You Know…

…and water is wet, and the sky is blue.

But we’ll get to my rant on supposedly well-intentioned cancer warnings in a minute. First, a bit of blog news:

If you were/are a fan of my blog serials, I have good news! I’m around 6 chapters into my next romantic suspense novel, and I’ve decided to serialize it again. One chapter every Friday, right here on the blog. Keeps me motivated and accountable, even if I know there are only two people reading. And since I rarely look at my stats (too lazy), I can pretend there are at least two people reading, which keeps me writing. Ignorance/fantasy is bliss, you know.

So, if you’re interested, stop back on Friday for Chapter 1 of…hmm. That’s a pickle. I should probably pick an actual title for this book, eh? I’ve been calling it Rattlesnake Falls Book 1, because the series will be Rattlesnake Falls, and this is the first one (I know, so logical). But I haven’t come up with an actual title for it yet. I’ll think on it, and hopefully have one by Friday.

I currently have subscription options for either “all posts” or “non-fiction only”. I’ll have a “fiction only” option as well by Friday, so those who prefer to get each chapter (but not these rambly weekly posts) via email can do so.


Alrighty then. Admin business done, now back to the rant o’ the week:

As I understand it, cancer isn’t really a disease so much as a cell mutation, and the things that turn it on/off are varied and individual to specific people depending on their own genetics and lifestyle. Cells mutate, and those mutated cells spread through the body and left unchecked, it will eventually kill us. Odds are incredibly good that a high percentage of us will eventually be killed by cell mutations (cancer) at some point (hopefully very late in life when our bodies are worn out, but that’s if we’re lucky).

Why am I thinking about this, you ask? Because I was challenged about my tattoos twice last week, and one of the arguments used was “tattoos can cause cancer, you know – and especially lymph node cancer”. The reason that last part was tacked on, obviously, is because Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma runs in my family, and it was an attempt at emotional manipulation. Scare tactics. Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate it, nor do I respond to such things all that well.

There are a *lot* of things out there that can cause (trigger, really) cancers. And we have a lot of warnings all over the place alerting us to that danger. The main cancer that runs in my family is genetic, and has a tendency to hit the same oldest (or only) child of the family in the same place on the body (lymph nodes at the side of the neck) at the same time in life (one week before a 50th birthday). It’s been very predictable for at least three generations on my dad’s side, and I’ve lived a great deal of my life knowing that one week before my 50th birthday, a lump will probably appear on the side of my neck, and it will be my turn to get radiated/chemo-ed/poisoned/whatever-the-current-treatment-happens-to-be in order to keep my body from killing me in the process of turning into a giant mass of monster-cells.

We humans are nothing if not hopeful, though, and to that end, I’ve done and continue to do a lot of things in order to reduce the risk of my genetic switch from “flipping”, or at least to prolong the process. With the occasional lapse, I workout fairly regularly and do my best to keep my weight under control (all previous generations where the cancer triggered, the “victims” were quite overweight). I eat as healthy as I can stand to, which is pretty healthy and includes a high-fiber, low carb diet, I stay away from most extra sugars, all artificial sweeteners, and I try to keep my indulgences to a minimum. I drink the equivalent of six cups of tea per day, no sugar added, and I do my best to get a proper amount of water for good hydration.

I read labels religiously, do my best to avoid potentially harmful chemicals in skin care, makeup, soaps/cleaners, household cleaning products, and personal care items. I use herbal-only hair dyes, and my nail polish is all “big-three-free” (which means it has less toxic chemicals, but it’s still not perfect). I don’t use plastic water bottles or storage containers if I can help it – everything is metal, glass or ceramic. I stay away from commercial drugs as much as possible, and use herbal/holistic remedies whenever I can.

You’d think I’d be confident in my ability to prolong or circumvent my family’s genetic curse, but honestly? I have no idea whether or not any of it will even help. And there’s a very good possibility that nothing I can do will stop that genetic mutation from triggering in my body in exactly the same way, at exactly the same time as my dad, and his mom, and her dad before that. Even if I can prolong it, there’s no guarantee that it won’t trigger differently, maybe at some other time, in some other place. That’s the thing about cancer. If the genetics are there, there’s no guarantee that anything we do differently will ever be able to stop it from actually manifesting.

I have tattoos. One of the few things I indulge in knowing full well that it isn’t the healthiest thing for my body, and that some of the pigment particles *will* settle in my lymph nodes. And I fully plan on getting more tattoos. Because I love them, and because no one can guarantee me that any of the things I do to keep my cells in line is actually going to work against my base genetics. I could live as pristine a life as possible, and still end up with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma one week before my 50th birthday. Or, the curse could mutate differently in me, and manifest as some different sort of cancer at some different time of my life too. Earlier, later…impossible to say. The potential is there, dormant (hopefully) for now. The possibility that something will eventually trigger it is high. If not my tattoos, it will be something else.

At some point, you have to just stop worrying so much, live your life, and deal with things as they come.

Well, you don’t have to, I guess, but it’s sure a lot more fun/less stressful than constantly worrying about every single thing that could go wrong and trying to control things that really are pretty much out of your control.

I’m keeping the tattoos and nail polish, thanks. My two main unhealthy vices, and the nail polish has been one since I was a young kid, way before they thought about things like avoiding toxic chemicals (nail polish is derived from automobile paint, you know, and then there’s polish remover, of course…), so I’ve certainly absorbed my fair share of those along with all the tattoo pigments.

Yes, I know tattoos could/may trigger cancer, thanks. I’ll take my chances.