Using Noise To Get To Sleep


Okay.  So some folks at Northwestern have figured out folks remember more when they sleep with regulated bursts of “Pink noise,” which sounds kind of like a waterfall and is definitely more agreeable than “white noise,”  the irritating product of a small round machine that people have placed inside my office or outside my door for many years.

I have never used it. It is supposed to mask discussion noises coming from my office.  Me being me, those noises coming from my office include at least one “happy song” and at least one shriek of laughter.  “White noise” at enough volume to stamp out anything like that would make me intolerably irritable.

The folks at Northwestern, after only one small study, are already talking founding companies after getting patents, which would belong to the university if someone “discovered” this phenomenon while in their employ.

Sleep helps life in a bunch of ways we have not figured out yet.  We do know for sure that its “architecture,” the organization of those amusing squiggles we find in an electrographic (EEG) recording of sleep “disorganizes” with age. This has been vaguely incriminated in many degenerative processes associated with aging.

Back to sleep in the allegedly mature adult.  I am not the only person who realized years ago that one of the things allegedly healthy human adults most want from psychophamacology is simply an on-off switch. There is a bigger picture.  An amazing amount of the psychopathology we treat now comes from the inability of a human designed for ancient feral conditions to fit in quietly in a place like, well, downtown Los Angeles.

For example, I have told many people, usually holding their arms heavenward, begging for help from a power greater than me, that when Fred Flintstone met, for example, a sabertooth tiger, the panic attack would give him a sudden burst of energy, so he could either kill the beastie with some kind of stone axe, or run like hell at least until he could effectively hide.

This was an evolutionarily adaptive response.

It just plain is not evolutionarily adaptive in downtown Los Angeles.

Of course, some patients believe this phenomenon has evolved to help them obtain Zanax, which I know is wildly addictive and many have told me is delightfully pleasant to take.

Oh my God!  I just realized some people take a little Xanax before sex, and most physicians agree it is safer to leave one on it during pregnancy than to try to take someone off.  We could be evolutionarily choosing kids who are a bit “doped up” at birth … AAAUUUGGGHHH.

Back to the on-off switch that modern civilization seems to favor.

It seems to be propelled by (surprise, surprise) money.  It is not a new idea.  Perhaps the most ancient example of modern pharmacology totally screwing up someone’s life in this way is the archetypal story of what Louis B. Mayer ordered for his most money-earning star, young Judy Garland.  Although I have often seen it alluded to in American media, nobody tells it like it is when it comes to shattering American myths like those loveable Brits.

By the time someone is dependent upon stimulant diet pills to wake them up and give them the energy to work on a minimalist diet, as well as barbiturates for sleep, their fate is already sealed.

I think we all felt sorry for Judy.  I remember when I was a little child driving with my folks by the main gate of the “Institute for Living in Hartford Connecticut, which was famous because Judy Garland had “spent some time there.”  Apparently, she had been considered to have been working too hard and “needed some rest.”

My family of blessed memory wondered if only crazy people got into the movie business, or the movie business made everyone in it crazy.

My parents perplexed me then for they said we were lucky to have a “stable” life which we certainly did not, and which I and my husband don’t now.

I have many patients who want their on-and-off switches intact.  To get up early to spend more time at work; or if they are lucky, with family.

To go to sleep later for similar reasons, but to go out cold the minute their heads hit the pillow.

Often they are so fixated on the use of chemicals for this that the best I can do is steer them to more benign substances than the one they use now.  Maybe ginger in their morning decaffeinated tea.  Maybe a touch of L-glutamine in the evening, or melatonin for sleep.

I wish workplaces were more flexible.  I am quite sure they would get more work out of their folks in the long run.

New discoveries about sleep will surely be a piece of the puzzle.

There is a new movement of self-help.  Many of the free apps in the Google play store are directed toward self-help for health preservation.  They urge people to move forward with health practices to restore a primal state, charging the user a few cents first then a few dollars, to learn and practice ways to be controlled, peaceful and strong.

Sooner or later most of these aids to self-determination will fly in the face of individual programs for well-being.

I expect work and money will generally win.  But seeing people rise up and try to take control of life is one of the most optimistic things I know.

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