Memory and sleep

There is a line of conversation that is common between my wife and me that has to do with ideas about things we would like to study, if we were young and had more time. It is pure speculation, but we are continually struck with how interesting this world is and how many lines of inquiry are open. We might have become linguists or sociologists or psychologists but we did not. We pursued the study of philosophy and theology and our lives have been rich and interesting. One of those fields of inquiry that we’ll probably never fully explore is the relationship between sleep and memory. We’ve read enough to know that there is a connection. Dreaming is one of the ways that our brains make the transition from short term to long term memory. Students who are deprived of sufficient sleep don’t learn as well as those who get enough.

I was thinking of that topic because I am back at a point in my life where I am sleeping a bit less. Our household is busy and full of people. I am trying to work extra hours in order to catch up after taking most of two weeks to be at the hospital with my wife. I’ve always tried to do a bit more than is possible. I frequently think I am capable of accomplishing more than I can and my response to most things is to simply put in more time and work more hours. I know better, but when I am tired I am less efficient and less thoughtful in my approach to work.

The thoughts of memory and sleep, however, come from having our daughter and her son visit. They are adjusting to the change in time zones that comes from traveling by jet airplane from Japan to South Dakota. There is a 16-hour difference in time, which means that days and nights are reversed and then a bit more. The three-month-old child, furthermore has a life that is a pattern of eat, sleep, have a diaper change, repeat. He is having longer periods of wakefulness when he looks around, moves his arms and legs, and explores his world and he is starting to sleep for longer blocks of time than when he was first born, but he still wakes in the night. From my point of view, he is a very calm baby. When he fusses it is easy to tell what he needs.

So I was trying to remember that phase of our lives. Our two children are 2 1/2 years apart in age. I remember the days of not sleeping all night long and having to get up with a child. I used to complain about it a bit. I used to feel tired most days as I struggled to do my work and be responsible as a parent. But I really don’t remember too many details. When did our children start to stretch out their sleep patterns? How old were they when they first started sleeping through the night? It is all a bit unclear in my memory. I think that I was working so hard to just survive and care for the immediate needs of our family that my memory of details is a bit foggy.

then again, I am aware that my memory isn’t as clear as once was the case. Part of the reality its that as we age, we accumulate more memories. There are more things that need to be sifted and sorted when we try to recall a specific experience.

I do remember how much I enjoyed holding our children when they were infants. Last night I held our grandson as he slept in my arms and it brought back memories of our children. We have the same rocking chair that we had when our children were tiny, but it has a less prominent place in our home. Right now it is in our basement while other furniture occupies our living room. I still like to sit in that chair, however.

I’m sure that there are brilliant scholars studying the relationship between sleep and memory somewhere and I’m sure that there are interesting articles that I could find and read, but right now my life is busy enough that I’m not inclined to take the time to find the articles and read them. It is another line of inquiry that is interesting, but which I do not pursue. Over the years I have accumulated a lot of possible fields of inquiry that have been left unfollowed. Memory being what it is, I can’t remember all of them.

When our children were little we lived in a small town where we went to the post office to pick up our mail. One of the regular outings was the daily trip to the post office, a walk of a few blocks each way. It was good for the children to get out and it was good for us to meet friends and neighbors and make connections. We would look forward to stopping to pick up our mail and sometimes there were interesting letters and items in the mail. These days the first thing I do when I’m tired is forget to pick up the mail. I will let it accumulate for several days before remembering to stop to pick it up. Our mailbox is close to our home. I drive by it several times a day. It wouldn’t be much work to pick it up. But somehow, I just skip that chore. Maybe the mail isn’t as interesting as it used to be. Maybe my priorities have shifted. The reasons escape me. Picking up the mail means one more chore to accomplish. It needs to be sorted and dealing with paper isn’t my strongest skill.

I do, however, want to remember the events of these days. Much is happening in our lives. The visit of our daughter and grandson is a precious event. I really want to remember how wonderful it all is.

Maybe if I could just get a bit more sleep . . .

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!