A form of fatigue

Jeff knows how to sleep well, and it is helping him survive.  June 2012

Jeff knows how to sleep well, and it is helping him survive. June 2012

“Sadness is almost never anything but a form of fatigue.”André Gide

This is the sort of quote that provokes a bit of skepticism in me, until I think about it closely.  To verify that it’s true, or at least mostly true, I need look no farther than members of my own family – and specifically, to think about Jeff and me.

One of Jeff’s greatest strengths, and a source of his amazing stamina even over the past 18 months, is his absolute insistence on adequate sleep.  At times he seems aloof, almost heartless, in his determination to put away the cares, sorrows and grief of the day (which lately have been considerable for him) and fall asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow.  During the worst hours of suffering related to chemo or surgery, his sleep was as impaired as I’ve ever seen it.  But even through all that, I’ve never known him to spend an entire night without at least a few hours’ sleep, no matter what.

Not coincidentally, I’ve never met anyone who wastes less time on self-pity or sadness.  In fact, it took me a long time to convince him that depression is quite real for some people, and I still don’t think he understands it completely, at least not in the same way that I do.

As for me…suffice it to say that sleeping well has never, ever been my greatest asset. Even when I try my best to get in bed at a reasonable hour, and even when I succeed, I don’t always sleep soundly.  Insomnia has been my most consistent health concern.

I did learn the hard way, though, that insomnia– or even fairly mild sleep deprivation– predisposes me to all manner of gloom, sadness and depression.  (Not to mention falling asleep at the wheel when I’m driving.)  Having already had more of such than I want in one lifetime, I have learned to be fiercely protective of my sleep.

A few things I’ve learned: it’s best to turn off the computer in the early evening.  It helps to eat Greek yogurt before bedtime. Delta-wave sleep CDs, sleep masks (to block out the light, even when it’s mostly dark) and a sauna session followed by a nice bath have all been remarkably effective for me, to my surprise.  Not perfect, but better than a dependence on nightly medication.  However, if forced to choose, I’d go for medication occasionally rather than endure more than a night or two of consecutive, refractory insomnia.

If you find yourself feeling down or more sad than usual, take a close look at your sleep.  If it has been less than ideal, try prioritizing that for awhile, and see if a good bit of the sadness doesn’t resolve with that intervention alone.  If you’ve got any helpful tips for us on how to improve sleep, including ways for those of us who are night owls to get ourselves into bed at a reasonable hour 😀 we’d love to hear them!

OK, as I write this, it’s 4:30 p.m. and I’m signing off the computer for the day (I hope) — pleasant dreams!

One year ago today:

Resolved in the morning


  1. Susan

    Good morning, Julia!
    I have sound generation software, and put together some bi-aural rhythms, but a sleep cd sounds more pleasant. I will look for one on Amazon. My problem is that there’s “too much to do” every day, yet I enjoy sunrise, which is really coming too early this week. 🙂
    Enjoy today (once you wake up! ), and thanks for your post!

    • The best sleep CD I have was given to me years ago by my friend Kathy and was made by Gaiam. I tried to find the same one online but couldn’t find one like it. I think you have hinted at the reason why I don’t sleep much — there are just too many things to do while I’m awake and sometimes nighttime is the only time I feel free to do “fun” things such as crafts or reading. On the other hand, at least I usually have lots of interesting dreams while I’m asleep, so I guess even sleep is a form of entertainment for me! I do envy people who can sleep soundly, though.

  2. Larry

    Sleep is a need that we all have. It is the body’s time to repair and re-energize. Some are able to fall asleep with ease. It’s hard to find a way to sleep if you are not sleepy. Each person has to set aside in their day time to fall asleep. Mark your day planner and set yourself aside the time to sleep. Get into a habit of going to sleep at the same time each evening so your body is used to it. The Butterfly says she is happy to see Jeff can sleep but she doesn’t sleep well herself with only a few hours each night total her sleep.

    • Larry, I remember the Butterfly didn’t sleep any better than I did! Jeff’s ability to sleep soundly has always amazed me. What he calls a bad night for sleep would be a good night for me. He has given me the advice you mention, and it does help, but not consistently. So much about how I sleep depends on how the day went. I’m gradually getting better at it, so maybe before I die I will be sleeping really well! 😀 I know for sure I get more exhausted more easily than I used to.

  3. raynard

    Julia what helps me is” checking out” ie( treating my brain like it’s a NASA Space Launch and uncluttering ” my thoughts ( what took up most of my time thinking) I also listen to my body better when it needs rest. I’ve been working 12 hours days for the past 2 weeks with only Sunday off. Didn” t have much trouble getting up at 3AM.. Back when I was on the road, I use to get up at 2AM.. The mind and body can work together if you discpline yourself . You have to want to is the key, stop fighting it.. In my life now, what need is there to be watching TV till it’s watching me? lol be blessed

    • Raynard, I have wished so many times that my brain had an on/off switch. I don’t know which setting would be most helpful, to be able to turn it off at night, or to be able to turn it on in the morning. Oddly, sometimes I find it easier to wake up when I’ve had very little sleep. But I agree that discipline is a key to it. If I can manage to get myself to bed at a reasonable hour, I tend to do better overall. Usually I promise myself that I can read as long as I want (Jeff got me a Kindle so I could read with the lights out 😀 ) and I usually read for 5 minutes tops before falling asleep. But I don’t always stay asleep. I long ago stopped watching TV so that’s one thing in my favor where sleep is concerned.

  4. Julia, i am really feeling your words! At its worse especially when it is Hot and in Georgia it is really hot right now…the MS is off the hook, it depletes me of my energy, leaving me to feel sick throughout the day…completely drained. Most people do not really comprehend the gravity of such sicknesses. No matter the vitamins and other medication needed to try to maintain some quality of life…we find ourselves overwhelmed and it may seem sometimes we do not care but rest becomes our bodies meditation, our peace, filled with small bits of physical reassurance, that we might strengthen enough to battle through another day. My wife says I sleep soundly, and yet she does not. Why, is there a secret reason or something. With me it is my relationship i always maintained with God! When I feel the world might fail me…in him I have absolute faith…so I find restful peace within his love, knowing its real. I pray for both you and your husband, for it is a tough road to walk, yet He finds strength in your selfless love as I do with my wife…we will be married 37 years next week. I feel your love permeates and makes him rest peaceful….and your strength also brings me to smile…i pray you rest peacefully also. God bless!

    • Hi Wendell, as one who grew up in Atlanta I can sympathize with the HOT Georgia summertime. I think it’s even worse in Columbus, where Jeff’s Aunt lives. From what I’ve heard of friends who are living with MS, sleep is a vital part of staying strong. I agree that your faith is helpful for sleeping. In fact I used to feel guilty that I so often fell asleep while praying, until I came to see it as a natural result of resting in the love of God. Congratulations on your 37 years together! And thanks so much for your prayers for us. It’s the prayers that keep us strong. I really believe that.

  5. I’ve come to appreciate how true those words are. Lack of sleep also contributes to weight struggles, as your body tries to compensate for the lack of energy (from sleep) with food.

    I love a long, hot bath and a book before bed. They’re wonderful. Stretching your body once in bed is nice, too. It gets your body into physical readiness.

    I recently bought and started wearing a fit bit 24 hours a day. I use it to track my sleep, and it’s been eye-opening. You push the button to start the tracking when you hit the pillow, then turn it off when you wake. It syncs to your computer, and tells you how often you were awake during the night, how often you were restless, and what your quality of sleep was for the night. You might look into it.

    I’m so glad Jeff honors his need to sleep. I always use to feel like I was missing something.

    • Alys, I felt more relaxed just reading your descriptions of bath, book and stretching! I was excited to see you mention the FitBit. I had never heard of it until Jeff gave me one as one of the anniversary gifts from him this year. I’ve been impressed with it! Very eye-opening about sleep (no pun intended) and so far, amazingly accurate in terms of clocking my walks – consistently identical statistics for identical walks, down to .01 mile increments. I have no trouble whatsoever accumulating the 10,000+ steps and 25-30 stair flights per day, but the calorie burn is depressing – I told Jeff, if I want to “splurge” occasionally, I will need to keep my daily intake to 1500 per day since on even my most active days so far, it shows me burning below 2000. I love the effortless record keeping, though. So cool that you have one too!

  6. Sheila

    Julia, thank you for sharing the personal glimpse concerning sleep issues and a problem that so many share. I believe really good, quality sleep requires a very good bed. We are ready to purchase one in the near future. Our Sleep Number Bed looks more like a hammock and sleeps even worse. 😦 I wish for you a happy weekend. 🙂

    • Sheila, those Sleep Number commercials sound so wonderful, but I was underwhelmed by my impression of the one I slept in at a hotel in LA a couple of years ago. Sounds like you are not thrilled with it either. Jeff and I have always invested in very good, firm mattresses and we totally love the last one we bought at J. C. Penney when we first furnished our town home in Alexandria. It makes SUCH a difference to have a comfortable bed. Although I often wonder if I would have an easier time getting up if it wasn’t so comfy! Especially in winter with the down comforter! Hope you have a wonderful weekend too. WOW, it always surprises me how short at time it seems between when we are saying that!

  7. Carolyn

    Oh how I remember the fatigue during chemo and even now . I wonder ,sometime,if I will ever feel great again. I pray that my eye surgery will help. Sleep is great when you need it. I didn’t like taking my pills for nausea because they made me sleepy, the nurse said to tske them that my body needs rest. Jeff has been through so much it is good to know that he has something good for him . How is Matt doing? Take dear friends and love to all next note will be after my eye surgery next week.

    • Carolyn, I too am praying that the eye surgery will help. I know there are times when Jeff wonders if he will ever feel good again. He says very little about it but I can tell he gets discouraged. The hardest thing for me is seeing how many foods he used to enjoy that he just doesn’t want anymore. He does still sleep fairly well even with the chemo drip attached, so that’s something to be thankful for. Matt’s cardiology appointment yesterday was the usual exhausting all day battery of various tests (and traffic to and from downtown DC) but the good report he got was worth it. The doctors are very pleased with how he is doing – pretty much every facet of his heart condition has improved since surgery. He was cleared to go to camp this summer so he left there grinning from ear to ear! We will be thinking of you this week and praying all goes well with your surgery. I’m sure many of those who read this blog will be praying as well. Love to you and Terry.

  8. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. When teaching-only on the weekends. During the work week I had to be in bed by 11PM to get up at about 5:30AM, get out the door by 6:30AM
    Now that I’m retired at bed-time I’ll do stretch exercises in bed, after I’ve removed my leg braces. Review my day and follow with prayers for forgiveness and those of thanks. A bit of reading, about 30min. And then set the TV timer and lie down to fall asleep while watching a movie I’ve seen before. There are times when I may feel some muscular/skeletal sensitivity due to corrected scoliosis(sort of a princess and the pea experience), so I may take one tylenol to take the edge off. Usually I’ll get 6-7hrs. each night.

    Sounds like Jeff has it right. Seems he leaves his daily trials outside the bedroom, so he can energize for what may await him the next day. A place for everything and everything in its place.

    A middle school student once gave me an end of the year gift. It was a photo of a sunset, with the caption: “Put your day’s troubles in God’s hands, and get your rest. He’ll be up all night anyway.”

    Sleep tight Julia,

    • Thanks Alan, I love that quote. I so wish I was as good as Jeff is about turning off the ruminations and just focusing on what’s at hand. I know a lot of people who say the TV puts them to sleep, but I think it would keep me awake. However, the lit screen of the Kindle puts me to sleep, so that’s probably not too different. Reading a very sedate book (usually some kind of nonfiction) is the closest I come to being able to turn my brain off enough to fall asleep. Turning it down to just one very quiet mental channel is good enough, I guess. Sweet dreams!

  9. bobmielke

    I have always been blessed with sleep. Most of the time when I lie down to go to sleep I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow before I’m out. I’ve always been that way. Lately, with the increasing aggravation of arthritis and diabetes, blood circulation is an issue, limiting the length of restful sleep. I have learned that if I get up and spend a few minutes online to occupy my mind, that I can return to bed and fall fast asleep again in mere minutes. I consider this a blessing.

    • Bob, I think Jeff is the same way. He is literally fast asleep within 5 seconds of lying down to sleep. I am envious! It is a blessing for sure if you can sleep that easily. Being online wakes me up, so I try to limit my time online at night. You are lucky if being online helps you sleep. I am just beginning to experience arthritis that is bad enough to interfere with sleep – NOT fun! But I am learning to cope with it. I guess we get adjusted to anything over time. Hope you have a nice RESTFUL weekend!

      • bobmielke

        I’m supposed to meet with my friends traveling here from South Carolina. I’m still waiting to here if they’ve gotten in range of the coast so we can get together. I’m staying up a bit longer than normal awaiting their call. The weather for the next 5 days will be like paradise compared to South Carolina, 75-78 with low humidity and sunshine.

        • Bob, I hope your friends made it in OK. You are right, this is a PERFECT time to be in the Pacific Northwest! I wish you could box up a few west coast breezes and send them our way. Hope you have a great weekend!

          • bobmielke

            As I type this I’m sitting in a McDonald’s in Tillamook, OR waiting for my friends to get here. They had a three hour drive from California to get here. I’ll new to see how tired they are before making suggestions on where I take them next. It’s a beautiful sunny 75 outside.

            • Bob, it sounds wonderful. We had a lot of humidity today, but it didn’t get out of the 80’s so I can’t complain. 75 in Oregon sounds better, though!

  10. Oh, my. Sounds like me and my husband. He’s sleep before his head hits the pillow. but not me…I would like one of those on and off switches for my brain. 🙂

    • Merry, if I ever discover one, you’ll be the first to know! Let me know if you come across one too. I’ve heard you can find anything online… 😀

  11. Michael

    My grandpa C was a great “cat napper.” He could doze off for a few- anytime and almost anyplace. I will never understand how Jay Leno could function on three hours sleep a night.

    • Michael, I am dubious when anyone claims they need fewer than 5-6 hours of sleep a night. It just doesn’t seem possible. While I sympathize with the understandable but ultimately greedy need to enjoy as much time as possible, I tend to think people who claim to need only 3 hours of sleep are kidding themselves. Perhaps it’s possible to function that way for a few days at a time; that might be what he means.

  12. Rene

    I’m sorry to hear that Jeff is feeling poorly, but glad that he can sleep. Imagine how he would feel if he couldn’t. Praying the alphabet helps me when I can’t drop off right away. You two will always be my “J.”

    • Rene, what a great idea – believe it or not I’ve never heard of praying the alphabet before but I’m going to try it! We are honored and blessed to be your letter “J” – you can be my “R!” 😀

  13. Janette Roberts

    I use essencial oils to help me sleep. You put lavender on bottom of feet before bed time. If you have a friend that sells DoTerra or Young Living essencial oils you may want to ask about them. You can also disfuse the oils. It’s worth a try. Health Food store may know of them also.


    • Thanks Janette! I have been reading about ways to use essential oils, and Drew, Megan and Grady gave me a lovely set of them for Mother’s Day. I have been just breathing in the lavender but I will try some on my feet. So far I am just having lots of fun sniffing the bottles; they all smell so good!

  14. wow, amiga.. what an interesting line of comments you have here! i am one of those who falls asleep almost instantly, even if i’ve had triple cups of coffee an hour before sleeping!

    i am sure that jeff has found a way to restore his health – by surrendering to the wonders of restorative sleep. there is so much that we don’t know, but surely it’s when we are in our most meditative moments is when our bodies are hard at work on repair and maintenance.

    if only i could find a way to restore good internet to my house!

    • You are SO lucky to be able to fall asleep even after coffee. I have to use it to keep me awake the next day after I’ve slept poorly. I do think a lot of great “repair and maintenance” happens when we sleep, and every time I manage to get in bed early and sleep well, I say “I’m going to start doing this every night.” 😀 Not always successful at that goal, but I keep trying. I SO wish you could get some good internet service!! Wish I could send you some in the mail! I find it so frustrating when it’s slow or down, but you have to deal with that sort of thing way more than I do. At least you can make beautiful art while you are waiting – a skill I don’t have! Hope you are doing well!

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