Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Sunday, 9 March 2014

"Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!" Macbeth

                                                                    'The Princess and the Pea'  by son, aged 5 

Dear You, 
I consider buying one of the new Sleep-Tracking Apps - you know I'm easily fascinated by new technical gimmicks. I tend to "Jawbones" by Nike, which is also a fitness tracker band.
What held me back was:
a) my vanity aesthetic sense - they hadn't the turquois band I want, only drab ol' gray ones.
b) my various experiences of not being that talented in programming high-tech computer devices (though I can still charm a young salesperson to do that for me - the only difficulty is (look at point a): I won't tell my age :-)
c) and: the experts are not very convinced that they work. If you impersonate a 'William Styron' and just lie still and stare into the starry, starry night, the app thinks you sleep, because you don't move.
Do I need a 'Jawbone'?
A few years ago this question would have been met with polite disinterest. I went to bed and slept like a baby. Come to think of it: like a stone - I remember that a new born baby wakes up every four hours.
Nowadays I still have the very fine hearing of a fostress - in Germany we have the expression 'Ammenschlaf', sleep of the fostress, meaning: you wake up to every light disquieting sound. That is a good thing when you have to look after a baby or little child - but it is absolutely unnecessary in a person whose child has just reached the ripe age of 30 and lives in Munich.
I am overhypersensitive (look at the picture above), but I am clever (Yin and Yang...):
- when at 4 o'clock in the morning the central heating rushes into being, I successfully mesmerized myself to change it into 'white noise' - thus I learned to ignore it (after I listened to a real 'White Noise'-CD on Amazon - I knew that that sound would keep me wide awake because it sounds like our central heating...)
- I eat the recommended banana in the evening (and run an extra mile in the morning)
- I drink a mug of hot milk with honey
- I tried lavender oil, but I can't stand the smell
- being old-fashioned I never in my life used medication, (though Evelyn Waugh's mixture of "bromide and crème de menthe" sounds interesting) and will not start now; I believe that the body will fetch up in sleep some day (even if in form of a nap).
AND: why should I doze myself off when the reason is definitely extrinsic, not intrinsic?
Our old neighbour living above our heads has a bad hip now and thus leans on a thumpy stick and his orthopaedic shoe sounds on the wooden floors like a horseshoe - and he has to go to the loo at least three times during the night, and then his not-elf-like wife gets up to rush to the far away kitchen with a fit of the most evil smoker's cough I ever heard? And one of them snores - oh yes, you can hear that... But these are all things you reasonably can't complain about. Our huge flats are constructed in a way that you can run around in circles - and they do: in none of all the rooms on the 180 square metres is a corner which they don't stomp through at night.
None. But I would feel silly to ask them to use a special trail at night...
Husband sleeps sound and well. His hearing isn't quite as good as it was. (Yin and Yang again :-)
I believe Russell Sanna, the executive director of the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine who says: "The reality of sleep is often at variance with the perception of sleep", meaning, one overestimates the time you lie wide awake at night. 
But please don't tell me that in the morning! 
I can prove my sleepless time by the pages I read of the very -- soporific tome of household-wisdom, "Home Comforts" by Cheryl Mendelson. It has 884 pages in very small print, and very detailed descriptions about Ironing Temperatures, Spills and Stains, Fabrics That Work and other delightful profound topics - I admit to feel a bit drowsy now when I write them down...
I try to work hard to change the stomping into 'white noise', and suppress my urge to rush and administer first aid help for a suffocating smoker... but till I reached that stage, I'll read on. Oh, interesting: the chapter on "Poisons, Hazardous Substances and Proper Disposal of Hazardous Household Wastes"...


  1. Our family can sleep anywhere and through anything ……. my Dad turned it into an art form !! and, our daughter, when flying to Australia or any long haul flight, gets on the plane, closes her eyes and then wakes up at her destination !!!! ….. but, my husband has terrible trouble sleeping. I shoudn't think that the noise of your neighbours helps much does it Britta ?!!
    I'm now worried that you have quoted from the Scottish Play. Maybe it's not unlucky if you write it down though !! Spin around three times, spit and swear, just in case !!!! XXXX

  2. Dear Jackie,
    houseband can do that too: sleep in an instant. I am a bit worried because before I never had problems with sleep (though I never was the power-napper as he still is). But I could always sleep eight hours uninterrupted. Sigh. Wonderful that your daughter can even sleep through a long flight! As to Macbeth: I didn't know about bad vibes coming from quoting that - in any case, now being warned, I'll spin around, spit and swear -- just in case. Some people suspect me having a little bit witchcraft power - and maybe that helps - but that I should invest for better sleep, I think :-)

    1. See what sleep deprivation leads to? (Or that curse): "husband" will say "thank you, but no, thank you" to my strange witchrcraft spelling in "houseband"

  3. My mother always said of sleepless nights, "at least I rested." I suppose comfort is as comfort does.

    1. Dear Joanne,
      your mother was so right: sleep scientist say the same (except the deep dreams - but I think those one will get in the time one sleeps nevertheless). I found out too that it is best to not get angry - the sooner one can sleep again. The newest thing is that neuroscientists compared sleep to "a diswasher" for the brain -- mmh -- I think at the moment I run on 'economic save up key'.

  4. Britta ……. you should never worry about a few mis-spelt words. Your English is wonderful …. you probably make less mistakes that I do !!!!
    As for quoting Macbeth ….. I think it's only unlucky if you quote it in a theatre so, I'm sure that you will be OK……but, just to be sure, spin, spit and swear then, I won't have to worry haha !!!!! XXXX

    1. That is very kind of you! I always use writing in English as an equivalent to crossword riddles à la Inspector Morse - hope to get the same effect on my brain. :-)
      I'm glad that I didn't quote Macbeth in the Westend Apollo Theatre where the ceiling came down (though my friend Gay, the musical singer, was spared as the other actors) - I would have felt guilty.

  5. I always call you Britta and, I think that it's wrong { or, did I see it as your nickname ? } …. I'm so sorry …… you are in my head as Britta for some reason !! See …. I'm the one getting it wrong now. It's Brigitta from now on unless I'm told otherwise ! XXXX

    1. Jackie, you are absolutely right: everybody (except my passport and my publisher) calls me Britta, and I love it (won't look over my back if someone calls 'Brigitta' - though I correct civil servants if they try to write it with an 'e' instead of the Swedish 'a' in the end. XXX Britta

  6. I remember that drawing! Now what you need is one to accompany it, thought this time with the pea bouncing on the floor above . . . I believe Sleep Experts are charlatans, one and all. The quote you mention is a fine example of a useless observation if I ever saw one. Every so often the New York Times, on a slow news day, trots out an article, always to the same effect about circadian rhythms, how we're really meant to be up for several hours in the wee hours, sit out on a porch in a rocker, smoke a pipe, and read . . . perhaps Ironing Temperatures, who knows!

    1. Dear Sue,
      you will see the original picture one day, I am sure of that! And "the pea bouncing on the floor above" made me double up with laughter (if I were a children's book illustrator I see a whole story before my inner eye)
      The New Yorker knows what many sleepless people, in Seattle or elsewhere, are interested in :-)
      By the way, I read that too: that we were really meant to be up for several hours in the wee hours - and isn't that strange: I felt comforted by that idea - felt One with all the old ancestors of Stone Age. XXX Britta Cavewoman

  7. 'the app thinks you sleep, because you don't move.'

    It wouldn't track my sleep very well. I'm a twister. Well, this is what I gather from the state of the sheets in the morning. In any event, I agree with you, Evelyn's Waugh's mixture does sound interesting--and I've never been one for medication, either, though I do enjoy the smell of lavender oil.

    I keep forgetting that a banana is excellent before a run. You know what else is helpful before a run? Chia seeds. I recommend them, my darling.

    Finally, not to be judgmental (too much Yang?) but the Executive Director of the Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine's statement sounds like overblown phooey. *Shrugs.*

    1. Dear Suze,
      I will try Chia seeds - read about them and they sound like a real pack of good nutrition (hope to find them in a health shop - though in Berlin you find all sorts of things. I know that they are posh in the USA now). I love our endeavour 'not to be judgmental' - look at my post: more judgement than forgiving - but really: I am more forgiving when I slept well... :-)

  8. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about the night watches! Yes, there is something vital about being awake at around 2 to 4 am. It is a time set aside for conscious reflection, meditation and communion with something higher while in the soft, deep dark of traversing from one side to the other. Oh, the very mystery!

    1. That is a new and interesting way to see it, Suze! I found out that it is best for me to breathe deeply, try not to be angry, - but if the wheel of thoughts start: to read (about ironing) or go to the kitchen and prepare a hot milk with honey.

  9. I really love that painting. The princess and pea story reminds me of H.I. anyway.

    1. Dear Tom,
      I'm glad you like it - I suspect that son was thinking of a special person too, him not knowing H.I. must have thought of the initial B.
      As for three years everything was quite silent above us, I hope that you will have no problems with sleep when you visit us.

    2. Soon! Or at least next time I visit Berlin for the first time.

    3. You're welcome! And best: after Lent :-)
      Britta (coaxed teetotaller at Lent)

  10. Dear Britta - drastic measures seem to be the order of the day if you are to have sweet dreams and not nightmares. Get yourself some earplugs or just move out into the countryside. How about you move upstairs, and the old folk move down?

  11. Dear Rosemary,
    you are right, but it ain't easy. I found special earplugs - that helps a bit. I moved our bedroom under their bedroom - no good idea, will eventually change that. One cannot talk to them because they are not doing it to annoy us. Our quarter in Berlin is quieter than most countrysides - really! We have asked the woman who owns the house that we will move to the top flat (it is above those neighbours), if - IF - the people living there will move (there is an elevator). Of course: a single house would be best - but that would mean: very, very far away suburban.

  12. Dear Britta,

    Rosemary beat me to the punch. I was going to suggest earplugs, too. Not that I think I could stand to sleep with them. Then again, I don't need them, because the constant ringing in my ears drowns out other sounds in the night. (See? Everything has an upside!) Do you drink much caffeine? I sleep much better if I only have one or two cups in the morning, and that's it. And occasionally, a splash of peppermint schnapps in a tall glass of ice water in the evening helps, too.

    One of the nicer things about getting older is I'm not as much of a slave to the clock as I used to be. I go to bed when I feel like it, and when I wake up in the morning, I get up. I don't worry about how many hours I've slept or how early it is; I just do it. It would be a much better plan, however, if I could only master the art of taking naps. My husband is a very skilled practitioner, but sleeping in the day simply doesn't work for me. Fortunately, if I get very tired, I can force myself to lie down with my eyes closed for twenty minutes or so, and then I'm good to go. More or less...

  13. Dear Susan,
    thank you for your sound advice! I use those earplugs (don't like them, but I think they might dim my hearing a bit - they tested it, and I hear much over 100% -- but that was always so, and the bumping over the head is not imagined :-) - and we had no trouble the last three years here in the flat, till the neighbour got that bad hip (and medication) and her really frightening smoker's cough gets worse in spring when the air is filled with pollen). But you tip about coffeine is a helpful: I started (!)to drink coffee 6 years ago, though never after 3 o'clock - but now I reduced it to two cups, though I like sitting in Berlin's cafés. (Will change to a life of camomille tea?)
    I adore people who can take an instant nap, as our husbands do. I can't (get very unsociable after waking up after a longer nap), but I found something that works for me: a meditation on my i-pod, duration: 25 minutes -- I sort of doze off, and then I'm alert and fresh when it stops - terrific.
    The greatest problem - and that's what I worked out for me - is: I should not overestimate the time of sleep I need. Or get angry because I feel disturbed. My schedule isn't that tight anymore that I have to "function" 100% the next day - and on the long run, I think, it will even out.
    And: in winter I tend to move less (I do sport, but less when it is cold or rainy) - that I will change now. Then, hopefully, though I will hear the three times thumping at night - I might be thus bodily tired that I can (easily) ignore it.

  14. I had to laugh about your fellow apartment dwellers "thumping" about in the night. Our experience with thumpers a few years ago was quite different, and we had to move our bedroom to the other end of the apartment because of them. Apparently, the young ladies next door were being paid to "entertain" the men who visited them at all hours of the day and night. What a hoot!

    We don't have the noise problem here, but I tend to have sleepless nights more frequently now than ever. Still trying to figure out the reason, but it does appear to be cyclic in nature and follow the moon as it waxes (zunehmen?). Ascendant lunacy, perhaps.

  15. Dear Walk2write,
    you made me laugh too! The thumping of your neighbours was of a quite different nature, haha, but you were lucky to find another room - here we have 5 1/2 rooms, but except the dressing room, which is small, everyone gets his thumping treatment. Though, at the moment, it is a bit better (husband said: Maybe they have read your blog - oops - but no, I don't think so...)
    Interesting, the connection with the moon. I sometimes wake up by the full moon - and sleep researchers try to convince us that this is unimportant - but so often they are ignorant of things that they don't convince me here.
    What I fear: when the change to summertime comes again - just when I adapted to the rhythm of wintertime...