"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sleepy Storyteller: 5 Reasons to call Mr. Sandman

You glance at the clock. It says 1:23am and still you are working on a project. With a few more minutes, you could rest knowing that you accomplished what you wanted to do.

Another look and the clock says 2:17am. Your eyes are heavy, but more and more an all-nighter seems to be on the schedule.

Heavy sigh.

The stage may have a sleepy storyteller, but at least it was worth getting things done.

Sound familiar?

Despite all the reasons we tell ourselves to stay up late, the legendary Mr. Sandman offers gifts only to the storyteller who is fully rested:
1. Mental Abilities and Inspiration
2. Energy to, from and on the Stage
3. Positive Attitude
4. Health
5. Passion for the Stories

Before delving into Mr. Sandman's gifts, let us understand the sleep cycle that occurs throughout the night. There are two different kinds of sleep: Non-REM and REM.

Non-REM (Non-rapid eye movement) can be broken into four stages. The first stage is considered light sleep when we transition from wakefulness to dreamland. About 10 minutes later, we enter the second stage of true sleep where our breathing and heart rate slows down. Then about 20 minutes later, we enter stages three and four of deep sleep when our breathing and heart rate are at their lowest levels and our muscles experience little activity. Finally, the delta brain waves allow us to disconnect from our physical world so we can integrate anything we may have learned during the day.

REM (Rapid eye movement) is introduced about 70 to 90 minutes after Non-REM and we have about 3-5 REM episodes in a night. The brain is active and often more active than when awake. As a result, we have dreams for about 5-30 minutes that increase our breathing and our blood pressure. Yet, our muscles are in an almost paralyzed state otherwise we may act out our dreams.

Keeping a notebook by our beds could help us capture these dreams and ideas that may be used for future storytelling.

This leads to the first gift of Mr. Sandman.

Mental Abilities and Inspiration
Certain stories and programs seem to test our brains in the way we develop them and get them ready for the stage. For the more complicated ones, I like to use a huge whiteboard about the size of a dining table to map out the possibilities. Sometimes staring at the board puts me in a trance and nothing new comes from the dry erase marker.

At times, my husband pulls me away from the project and reminds me of the power of sleep. Though he is not a doctor, I know he is right.

Sleep has a way to engrave new ideas through a process called memory consolidation.

When attending the National Storytelling Conference, often I have a total of eight hours of sleep over the course of four days. I rationalize that besides going to the workshops and performances, I need to network.

Without sleep, I may have difficulty remembering who I met in the first place. Though the brain is active during sleep, certain parts like the emotions and the social skills are at rest so names could be recalled in the morning. Any other skills learned during the day could also be retained through sleep.

Energy to, from and on the Stage
A storyteller tends to travel anywhere from 1o minutes to 10 hours to a gig. If any of that time involves driving, then arriving safely to the stage is needed.

Many police officers are worried more about drowsy driving than drunk driving, though both have killed well over hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Once I had a four-hour drive from the Vernal Storytelling Festival to my home. The event ended Saturday night and I wanted to get home in time for the Sabbath. With few cars on the dark highway, my eyes batted a bit and my brain could not recall the last few miles I drove. Hallucinations seemed to appear. After a few minutes of this, I signaled off to the side, locked my doors, and took a nap. I arrived home later than planned, but I had something to be thankful for. . .I was alive.

Positive Attitude
Sponsors, audience members, and fellow storytellers appreciate a cheerful person. Unless grumpiness is known as your style of telling, then the likelihood of being hired again could drop by choosing to get four or less hours of sleep versus seven to nine hours of sleep.

As I am a detail-oriented person, there could already be a certain level of irritability and moodiness so that things are "perfect". Lack of sleep makes me less welcomed by others.

A sleep deprivation experiment was conducted on two groups of rats at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. The first group did not receive any sleep and died in about three weeks. The second group were denied REM sleep and died in about five months. Both groups had sores on their tails and paws since their immune system deteriorated. These rodents normally have a life span of two to three years.

Naturally, these results reflect on us humans. The longer we live, the more stages we can grace as as storyteller. During sleep our white blood cells develop so to combat illnesses. We may have more luck in fighting cancer, avoiding hypertension and maintaining a regular heartbeat. Besides the major diseases, I have noticed headaches and sometimes a sickly stomach if I get too little sleep.

Our fans will appreciate the way we take care of ourselves.

Passion for the Stories
Though I love the stories I choose to tell, sometimes the audience may not sense the passion due to lack of sleep. I may appear to have flattened emotions or even. . .gulp. . .be monotone. The spark could be missing from my eyes and without this excitement, I may have trouble for the audience to connect.

Sometimes we have trouble getting to sleep even if the desire is there. Here are some "Do"s and "Don't"s.

What to Do:
1. Maintain regular time to go to bed as well as when to wake up--even on weekends
2. Develop regular and relaxing bedtime routine like reading, listening to music, etc.
3. Adjust your bedroom to be sleep-conducive that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
4. Use bedroom only for sleep
5. Exercise regularly as long as done a few hours before sleep
6. Write down what you what to accomplish the next day before jumping into bed

What to Avoid:
1. Talk on the telephone late at night or being on the Internet
2. Keep computers or televisions in the bedroom
3. Eat or drink anything with caffeine no more than 4-6 hours to bedtime
4. Extreme hot or cold temperatures in bedroom
5. Alcohol or Cigarettes due to withdrawals during night and having light sleep versus being fully rested

So have sweet dreams and may Mr. Sandman smile at you.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

Some Online Resources on Sleep:


Sean said...

Nicely done. Not enough storytellers allow time for sleep. They think they can perform all day then drive home. I advise folks to work that extra hotel night into the contract fee.

NJTOM said...

"Then about 20 minutes later, we enter stages three and four of deep sleep when our breathing and heart rate are at their lowest levels and our muscles experience little activity. Finally, the delta brain waves allow us to disconnect from our physical world so we can integrate anything we may have learned during the day."

If this is correct then how can the current medical advice to prevent Slow-wave sleep (Stage 3 and Stage 4 NREM) in infants be safe? Slow wave sleep (SWS) is when infants die of SIDS. So, pediatricians no longer allow infants to get SWS. Is this safe?