February 21, 2013

Asleep at the Wheel

Welcome to the February 2013
Natural Living Blog Carnival:
Addressing Sleep Challenges.

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month our members have written posts about how they address sleep challenges in their homes.


"You know things are grim," I said to CelloDad, "When you've had two hours of sleep and you don't even feel all that different." That was when our eldest was a tiny babe and CelloDad was just a dad, sleep-deprived like all new dads and too cross-eyed most of the time to be thinking of musical instruments.

We somehow survived those first delirious days of parenthood, but even now we seem to be carrying a permanent sleep deficit. There's always something: if not the baby, it's work pressure, family circumstances, home repairs, rather more dinner than we need, or even an exciting movie too close to bedtime.

These days, it's those Alex Rider books that CelloPlayer and I are reading in a private book club (only two members); these are spy novels for children: fast-paced page turners, they're hard to put down! Oh yeah - and the coming of the Change. I could put that down any day. At this stage, mostly it messes with my sleep.

I looked into this a bit, and found that a lot of the sleep irregularities experienced by (peri)menopausal women often have to do with an out-of-balance thyroid gland. This gland manufactures hormones involved in metabolic regulation: that includes sleep patterns and the regulation of body temperature. Sometimes re-balancing is as simple as offering the thyroid gland enough iodine, an essential ingredient in its hormone production.

The easiest way to get iodine is to get a bottle of disinfectant like Betadine and paint it right onto your skin. The brown stain should stay for 24 hours: if it disappears faster than that, that's a sign that your body needs that iodine pretty badly, and is grabbing it right through your skin. (The first time I did this test I couldn't find the stain back after only an hour: oops! I started painting it on every day, a quarter-sized spot on my thigh, or more imaginative shapes if my children do the painting).

You do get iodine through iodized salt. But a daily dose takes two teaspoons of iodized salt a day. I use perhaps one teaspoon of sea salt in my cooking every day, and that's for the four of us, so that pathway is just not going to cut it for me. Currently, my preferred way of getting iodine is through seaweed. Dulse in particular is a high-iodine sea vegetable that doesn't have that fishy taste: I eat dried dulse by the handful as a snack, yum!

Re-balancing took a few weeks, but now that I have my iodine at the right level, I sleep through the night again. As an added bonus, I have no more hot flashes, and my hair (which I had been losing by the handful) is stuck to my head again.

Even so, and at whatever age, as a parent there are simply times that we don't get the 7-9 hours a night that's considered a healthy amount of sleep for adults. Well below that amount, I get grumpy, forgetful, and rather accident prone. I really should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery.

But I do.

Even with my head muddled, I still take the wheel of a 3000-pound steel object: something with the weight and the destructive potential of a medium-sized wrecking ball, and I send that hurtling down the road, rather faster than a common wrecking ball. With my children on the back seat.

What a crazy thing to do! After carefully looking into the crash records of cars, after obsessing about the safety record of child seats, I get behind the wheel and subject my children to the very large risk of operator error. Wow.

And apparently I am far from alone. A 2005 poll by the National Sleep Foundation has found that 60% of adult drivers have been drowsy while driving that year. An astonishing 3% have confessed to actually falling asleep behind the wheel.

In 2010, more than 30,000 people died in traffic accidents. Of those fatalities, 3% were directly attributed to drowsiness of the drivers involved. But a further 40% are are from causes like "Failure to keep in proper lane", or "Operating vehicle in erratic manner", things that could very well have to do with the driver being asleep at the wheel.

The statistics for traffic fatalities confirm this: On weekdays the highest fraction of fatal traffic accidents occur between 3-9pm, that is, around the evening rush hour, when we are tired from a day's work. On Friday and Saturday nights there is a pretty high peak between midnight and 3am, which I think has to do with drowsiness, perhaps compounded by drinking.

The time with the lowest traffic fatalities? Early Sundays, in February. In fact, throughout the year, Sunday between 6-9am is a great time to get your car-borne errands done, if you have a choice. And if you have the luxury, try to avoid the evening rush hour on weekdays: plan your day carefully; make use of flextime working hours if you can.

If you must be out there, drive conservatively: you're sharing the road with a load of sleepy drivers. Refuse to be part of the problem: work at getting enough sleep for yourself. This week and next, I'm putting myself on sleep camp, aiming for the full nine hours every night, no Alex Rider books for the duration. After just a few days, getting up in the morning is already much easier. Why not give it a go?

Don't Drowse and Drive.




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Please take some time to enjoy the posts our other carnival participants have contributed:


  1. fantastic post; I learned SO much. The thyroid confuses me because apart from weight gain the symptoms for hyper and hypo seem similar?? I'm definitely hyper if anything at all, so is the treatment the same? Fascinating about the iodine painting and how your body drank it up in an hour! Thanks for sharing and for the reminder about not drowsing and driving :)

    1. Thanks, Mrs. Green! I'm sorry, I really don't know much about hyperthyroidism, so can't tell you anything about its treatment.

  2. That is so good to know about iodine! I've heard a lot about magnesium levels affecting sleep, but not iodine. Thanks!

    1. Hi Charise, the iodine works to balance the thyroid gland in particular. I've also heard about magnesium helping sleep, should try that again, thanks for reminding!

  3. That is really cool about the iodine. Thanks for sharing. So interesting!

  4. Always a good tip about driving when sleepy. It's so true. I'm so sleep deprived that I should really be more careful too. Great post.

  5. I am personally very scared of truck drivers, because I am sure that most of them do not get enough sleep. So I always make sure to give them some space as well!

    I am not the first to say it...but thanks for the iodine tip! :-)

  6. Thanks for tying this into driving. I would not have thought about writing one driving while drowsy but it totally fits and it's good to hear.


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