Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Dog Was Part of It

Her name is Angel, named that way because she was all white as a pup. An Australian Shepherd from inbred parents, she was born deaf, blue-eyed, and pink around the edges.

We wanted a puppy for the kids. We didn't want to go to a puppy mill, but to get a dog no one else wanted. A deaf albino seemed a good choice to fill the billet.

She was the family dog when the kids were growing up. We let her sleep inside at first. This dog, however, was a biochemical weapon, able to release a stench so strong it could bubble paint. My father-in-law fashioned a corner of the shed for her.

We taught her American Sign Language= signs for come/dog, go, sit, stay, lay down, stand up, potty, out, toy/play, eat, speak and no. It was easier to teach her these signs than I would have thought, and it made communicating with her straightforward.

An outside dog, she always wanted to see her people. "She just wants to be part of it," we said.

She loved to run in her yard, and wore paths in the grass around the perimeter, and later, between the trees as they grew. All summer long, she would run a lap or two at top speed, then collapse into her kiddie pool, lapping at the water as she lay in it. Cooling off, the process would repeat until, her pool empty, she would find someplace cool for a nap.

She chased a squirrel into the neighbor's yard one day, so I walked the perimeter of her yard with her, telling her "No" and pounding on the ground around her boundary. As a result, I lost my wedding ring, which was a lesson for me.

She has always been there, in good times and bad, quietly filling the niche between living accessory and trusted friend.

Over the last year she's developed an intermittent cough that the veterinarians could not diagnose. After a summer filled with her usual routine, this fall she developed a limp, and lost her appetite for the brand of dog food she's enjoyed for years. We thought it was old age, and began adding liquid to her food.

The limp worsened and it was hard to watch her walk. A blood test revealed the likely culprit. She has cancer.

The poor old girl isn't eating much now, and spends most of her time sleeping. Though her eyes have dimmed, she still wants to see her people, to be part of it again for just a little while.

Monday, October 24, 2011

How Do I Get To Sleep

Getting to sleep is easy for some people, but for many of us it can be very difficult. No matter how tired or if -- and perhaps especially -- we have a need to be rested in the morning, sleep is elusive.

What follows is a direct method for getting to sleep. But first, you need to understand why you can't sleep.

If you're in physical pain and can't get comfortable, get medical advice.

If you drink coffee or caffeinated beverages during the day and can't sleep at night, stop it or cut back.

Avoid eating to excess at night, and desserts. The increase in blood sugar will keep you awake like nothing else.

Try not to use alcohol as a sleep aid. It may help you get to sleep, but you will probably wake up in a couple of hours as your body deals with its effect on your blood sugar.

With all of that, here is my direct method. It will work:

  1. Exercise. Some people claim that exercise at night keeps them awake, but I have found that mild exercise before bed helps me sleep. There is a balance you have to make between burning off excess blood sugar and generating too much in the way of endorphins. If you can exercise during the day, it will help your sleep. Consider calisthenics or isometrics near bed time.

    In any case: stretch before bed. It helps to relax muscles and other soft tissue, and takes the edge off of excess energy.

  2. Make a list. List all of the things you need to do tomorrow, and all of the things you are thinking about that are keeping you awake. Do not fear them; write them down. You will deal with them in the morning, when you are rested and they have been up all night worrying about you.

  3. Unplug. While of course you have to read the rest of this, you should put away your book, disconnect from Twitter, shut off your computer, phone, television, or other device (assuming you aren't some reader in the future who has only one device for all information sharing). These distractions are not helping you get tired to sleep, they are your excuse not to do so.

  4. Get comfortable. This usually means getting into bed with your own personal combination of pillows, covers, stuffed animals, or whatever. For some people this is a big deal, but for others it isn't. I don't care -- I'm just here to tell you how to sleep. I any case, you should not have to exert any effort to remain in position.

  5. Close your eyes. This seems silly, but how many times do people describe inability to sleep as "staring at the ceiling"? When I hear that, I always think "You're doing it wrong."

  6. Relax. Concentrate on your toes (individually) to make sure each one is relaxed, then your feet, ankles, and so on. Go over in your mind in whatever detail you need to make sure each part of your body is relaxed. Pay special attention to the neck and shoulders.

  7. Count backward. Starting at 10,000 or so, silently count slowly backward. After a while, your breathing will probably be in sync with your counting.

  8. You will sleep.