“Off To Sleep!” with you!

Ladies and Gentlemen! It’s time to go to sleep! Wait. Not till you read this.

PsychU, a patient education website, has invited me to present on sleep. These are their questions and how I hope to respond. Do you have any recommendations, other interests, directives? Please help me! Smile.

1.       Dr. Johnson-Quijada, in what ways is sleep important for our behavioral health?

Sleep rudders our biology ship, (if “rudders” may be used as a verb.) Our biology is the reason we have emotions and behaviors. Take out the brain and we don’t have any problems with emotions and  behaviors. So the biological health of the brain and body is where our focus should begin with when thinking about emotional and behavioral well-being.  This is not in exclusion of other import paradigms, such as the psychological or sociological influences on what make us who we are.

But let me ask you, 

Where do emotions and behaviors come from?

Now think about it and answer your true beliefs.

I was speaking with a wonderful physician the other day to whom I asked this question, (let’s call her Doctora.)

I respect Doctora for her character, personality, standard of medical practice and interpersonal beauty. She is a bulldog in the operating room. When patients need studies done that insurances won’t pay for, she tears barriers to treatment apart with vicious tools of rightness. And she cares.  She sits.  She asks.  And she cares.  She sees the person in the paper gown, each one for the person she knows them to be and the person yet unknown.

I admire Doctora greatly not only for these qualities but also because it gets personal.  I, who have my own special practice of medicine, cannot do her’s.

When just a green bumbler in medical school, there was a fateful day when I shadowed another great artist of medical care into a locker room.  I suited up in that blue sack they call scrubs.  I put little blue sacks over my tennis shoes too.

Do you know why there are blue sacks on the surgeon’s shoes?  So what is on our shoes won’t contaminate the operating room. But also so that when wet things come out of the human body and fall onto their feet, their toes won’t feel squishy. Yep. That’s what was going through my mind as I scrubbed my hands, each finger and each finger nail the ten minutes it takesto reach what is considered clean.

Surgery in progress, the color red mixed with a smell and monstrous sensual force that clobbered me to the ground.  I swooned, gagged and promptly ended my surgical career.

There is nothing more irritating to a surgeon than someone who doesn’t appreciate the “fun” of “cutting.” Yes. I irritated this mentor and others too I’m afraid.

This doesn’t keep me, unfortunately, from pleasuring in telling people, “I am licensed to do surgery.”  I am you know.  Any Jane with a medical license can pick a scalpel up and bring back the dark ages, or contemporary, depending on who holds the license.  I’m irritating to my mentors, remember.  It reminds me how anyone can go online and pay to become a marriage registrar, i.e. perform a marriage ceremony for couples.  My brother did that twenty years ago and has yet to perform the marriage ceremony for a willing couple.  For real judges and clergy, this might be irritating too and that makes me a little happy as well.

Anywho, Doctora and I were rolling with the injustices haranguing us in the practice of medicine, both from the angle of the physician and the patient. I was pumping her up for being the cutting-wonder who she was and she was dutifully marveling at my jabber-mouth work that she would, “never be able to do in a million years.”  Somehow this brought us round to how our culture avoids embracing the biological paradigm of anything inside our skull but is so willing to celebrate it for any other part of our human bodies.

Where do emotions and behaviors come from? 

Doctora answered me with a frozen breath. Then after I warmed and soiled the air with a lot of jabbering and she was finally able to speak, she said,

I would just be horrified if my brain got sick!

I wondered if it was scary enough to clobber her to the ground, but I do agree.  Terrifying.  Don’t you think?

So sleep is important from a basic rudder-rudimentary perspective of healing, restoring, and preserving our biological identity.  

If we don’t sleep well, a disease process may develop. 

During sleep, we heal from injuries, both physical and mental. Our brain actually shrinks for a small period, squeezing out, like a sponge, the toxins that accumulate during the day. It becomes smaller in mass without the fluid that filled it. The toxins drain into our cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and after a period, the brain absorbs new clean CSF and expands in size again. Without deep sleep, the brain retains the toxins it accumulated during the day and those toxins go on to damage the brain cells, summarily over time, potentially harming the brain health and leading to disease. 

These treatments relating to sleeping well are often better than pharmaceuticals when it comes to processing and treating stress. When we sleep, we allow our broken neuronal connections to regenerate. We re-stock our shed with ingredients like cortisol, hormones, and neurotransmitters that are fertilizer for well-nourished thinking, kind behaviors, and stable emotions. During sleep, our memories consolidate; they find their place in the folds between our cells and root down into our rich minds.

I have seen regular, restorative sleep bring someone from a place of mental decline to no longer needing psychotropic medication. Everything works better with sleep.

2.       What are some of the tools that you like to use to help people develop better sleep hygiene?

Sleep Hygiene, according to Dr. Q! 

1. Bed is for  

The bedroom is only for sleep and for sex. This means no food, no phone, no TV. If you are not having sex, then all you get to do here is sleep. This might be an adjustment for the entire family, if your spouse is used to clicking on the late news or your kids want you to read them stories in your bed. But your subconscious has to recognize this place as a sanctuary, and not the place to read one last chapter or check Twitter. 

(I have yet to have someone tell me that this improved their sex-life, but one would think!…”)

2. Naps

No naps longer than 20 minutes during the daytime. If you are tired and have the luxury of lying down during the daytime, do it! But set your alarm to wake you up in 20 minutes, and then make sure you wake up fully. You can take these “power naps” 20 times a day if you want to, as long as they are no more than 20 minutes at a time. Anything longer will break into your deeper stages of sleep and throw off your sleep cycle (also known as sleep architecture or circadian rhythm) at night.

3. Exercise

Exercise, but not before bed. Exercise during the day can help to regulate your sleep cycle by making your body tired at night, but make sure you do not crowd it against sleep initiation. Try to get 40-60 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5-7 days a week. Look at it like a pill, prescribed by a doctor. This is something you need to do not for your waistline, but for your medical and emotional health. Every day, tell yourself, “I’m exercising so that I will feel good, so that I will sleep good, and so that I can do what I want in life.”  Some say, “I’m exercising for my brain!” 

4. Lights

Keep the lights dim before bed, and turn off the screens early. Darkness releases melatonin from the pineal gland in our brains, which helps to regulate our sleep cycle. Light suppresses it. Melatonin is a cornerstone in sleep architecture. Having your face six inches from the computer or TV before you lie down doesn’t give your body much time to turn itself off. (Some people who feel they must be on the computer or TV before bed have found that wearing sunglasses for at least the last 30 minutes helps.)

5. Routine

Go to bed and get out of bed at the same time every day. Enough said there.

6. 30 Minute Get Up

If you go to bed but cannot fall asleep in 30 minutes, get up and do something else until you feel sleepy. Then go to bed and try again. Refer back to the other rules when choosing your activities (no screens, no reading in bed, etc.).

7. Caffeine

No caffeine in the second half of your day. Period. No matter how good that iced latte looks. Decaffeinated is the way to go!

8. Alcohol

Do not use alcohol to sleep. Alcohol is a depressant (will make you depressed) and also blocks deep sleep. Alcohol hits the same receptors in the brain as the benzodiazepines mentioned above. 

9. Nicotine

Do not smoke before bed or if you awaken from sleep. Nicotine is stimulating. (It also decreases blood flow to the penis, so that’s one less of only two allowable bed activities we are allowed… Bummer.)

10. Sleeping Aids

If you cannot fall asleep in 30 minutes, consider taking a sleep aid. Do not take any over-the-counter sleep aids except natural melatonin, valerian root, or chamomile. Others almost all contain diphenhydramine, which blocks your deep sleep. You may end up sleeping a longer amount of time, but you will not be getting restorative sleep. 

If you talk to a doctor about a prescription sleep aid, do not take benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium,) temazepam (Restoril,) clonazepam (Klonopin,) alprazolam (Xanax,) or lorazepam (Ativan.) These also block deep sleep. Sleep aids that don’t block deep sleep and sleep architecture include atypical benzodiazepine receptor ligands – such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), or zaleplon (Sonata). Trazodone (Desyrel) is also safe for sleep structure and maintenance. The newest FTY (Friend to Yourself) sleep aids are Belsomra and Silenor. Sometimes people will find that combining sleep aids, such as zolpidem with trazodone, is more effective rather than using only one agent. Some of these wash quickly out of the body, and some take a full eight hours.

11. Sleep With Me

Do not sleep with your pets or children. Pets and children are disruptive, and no one gets the rest they need. Get the sweet buddy-dog out of bed.

It is not personal. It is sleep hygiene.

I’ll insert here, that one thing that gets left out of most sleep talks, is how to be awake. 

Because, the opposite of sleep is not just slogging around in a haze. It is alertness, attention, and memory.

Sort of abandon sleep hygiene for a while. Give yourself a break from the disappointment. And then be firm on the effort of daytime alertness.

Practically, all of this means reading, writing, talking, and moving. No nap unless before noon. The body requires all these to be alert. And vice-versa for alertness.

This is where I additionally bring in the concept of a stimulating medication such as provigil. Don’t confuse this with taking caffeine. Caffeine is metabolized way too fast to be helpful in this regard. There are others one may discuss with their treatment provider.

3.       What parting words do you have for other practicing psychiatric healthcare professionals regarding this topic? How about for the consumers?

For providers and consumers alike, remember our identity is as humble as the cells from which is is generated from. Our identity is as vulnerable as those cells are. The basic needs of the body, such as sleep, lead to the most beautiful and marvelous developments that this life can bring. Without our biological health, without healthy sleep, everything in our body and what our Me connects to, is affected.

Questions for you, readers: Again, do you have any recommendations, other interests, directives?

Please help me!

(Smile.)

Keep on!

Besmirching God with My Crazy

I’m sitting here in a volunteer medical clinic for a 60K attendee camporee. It’s humid and hot and we are seeing a lot of dehydration, amongst other things. 

As a psychiatrist, I’m humming the Hallelujah chorus as I discover how much general medicine I still remember, from gout, viral rashes, respiratory and ear infections, cuts and bruises, and so forth. The group I came with teases me that if someone comes in for a cough, two hours later they will have disclosed that they were abused as a child and be swallowing prozac.  I am ignoring this implication that I am missing “the point” by treating for psychiatric needs. Ignoring and missing, at least it’s consistent.

Our theme from this camporee week is appropriate.  We have been looking at the life of David. In these, we see a whole lot of psychiatry going on, both medical/biological, and that which has to do with volition. King Saul demonstrated a sure biological mental illness. And David pretended to be crazy – call it, “acting out.”  

God put this in the Bible for some reason(s). Question: What does this say about God’s character? I mean, we certainly don’t look up to people with acting out behavior, like David. Nor do we necessarily look up to people with mental illness like Saul, either. What does this say about who God is? Why does God put this in the Bible?

The Bible didn’t describe this as psychiatric, behavioral, acting out, or general medical.  It just told the story. These ages later, we can do more with the story. Here in time, with the knowledge that the generations have given us, we could say something psychiatric was going on. But generally, despite this knowledge, we ignore the medical condition. We still talk about them with a weighted moral perspective, as if they departed from their spiritual walk in these behaviors, rather than consider the medical condition of their brains.

David is getting a javelin thrown at him while playing the harp. Patton State Hospital for the criminally insane might have housed king Saul if he were alive today. Then, David is in front of the Philistines with King Akesh, where he “pretended to be insane; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.” (1Sam 21.) 

Dr. Martorell, a neonatologist, told me,

“I see so many people afraid to discuss problems such as depression, anxiety, other psychiatric illnesses and even family problems or abuse.  Yes, partly due to the fact that they may be judged as not having enough faith or not taking care of their health or not following certain principles.  

Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Carrie stated, 

“God and psychiatry go hand in hand I believe, but many Christians don’t think psychiatry has anywhere to go in the church. This is sad because my mom had bipolar, but nobody could help her.  She needed the ‘extra help’. The church thinks we should be able to handle it ourselves.”

You may have seen the lock-down type who says, “Keep it in the family. Don’t tell others what goes on here. It’s none of their business.”  

Dr. Martorell said, 

Our cultural or family upbringing has a lot to do with how free we feel to discuss these issues.  In certain cultures mental health problems are simply not discussed.  If it gets brought up, the family directly or indirectly tells the affected person suffering not to discuss these outside the home, as though it were some dark secret that cannot be disclosed.

Nurse Carrie said, 

“Everyone thinks we should deal with things on our own, and we shouldn’t have to talk to people about our problems and what’s going on in our lives.”

Ironically she is describing a condition of the church of independence. Yet inherent to being a believer is the learning to depend on someone else, God. 

Nurse Carrie said, 

“Why is it with depression and such, we can’t work as a church and have medical get it done.”

Many say, ‘If you go see a psychiatrist, it’s a sign of weakness. You’re not a good Christian.’ These are the comments I’ve heard of through the years.  You should just pray, and God can take everything away.”  

When my aunt suffered colon cancer, she didn’t get medical treatment in the beginning, preferring to have herself anointed, and follow a “homeopathic” approach. Later as it progressed, she changed her mind and found it was too late. So although largely, it isn’t only in psychiatry that we misrepresent who God is, we need ask ourselves, Who is God if what we believe about this is true?

Dr. Martorell shared,

As a neonatologist, I see infants born prematurely. Their brain develops outside the womb and are simply not the same as those that develop in a dark, quiet environment listening to mother’s heart rate, free of noxious/painful stimuli inside the womb.  As much as we try to imitate a womb with our incubators we can’t provide the same care.  When these infants are followed up for years, some develop physical deficits such as cerebral palsy, blindness, the need for oxygen, and the inability to eat on their own. These physical problems are easily seen and various treatments can be provided.  They are also at greater risk for developing learning deficits, hyperactivity/inattention problems, depression, anxiety and some academic papers even suggest increased risk of schizophrenia.  The thought behind these is that billions of synapses are occurring during pregnancy and the way these synapses connect is different in premature infants.  It is also interesting to note that the brain volume preset at birth occurs during the last 4 week of pregnancy. As these children grow up they need treatment for physical problems as well as psychiatric problems they may develop.  

I realize that it is not just in our churches that we are afraid to address this issue but I see it in the families of my newborns.  So many of these moms self medicate with illicit substances in order to treat their anxiety or depression.  Our culture as a whole has neglected to look at these issues as a medical problem that needs treatment.  So many children and teens are committing suicide.  Our own “well educated” health professionals have some of the highest suicide rates and yes it is occurring in our christian institutions as well as outside.  

Nurse Carrie said, 

“In this kind of approach, people are saying S/He’s not a loving and forgiving God and S/He doesn’t understand us.  If you deal with psychiatry, you’re a sinner. Why can’t you get it done with God on your own. He’s not a loving God, saying this person is not allowed to take medication. The pastor’s describing a cruel God because he’s not allowing the person to get the help he needs.  Like if someone’s leg is bleeding and you refuse to give that person a band-aid. 

But, God is always loving. This can’t be true.

I don’t think the pastor has a right to tell the parishioner that.”

Maybe we just succumb to the awkwardness of it all.  Too awkward to talk about God in our community.  Too awkward to talk about psychiatry in our church. There are so many reasons we approach emotions and behaviors this way but in the church or outside of it, let’s consider the question, What does this ay about God’s character?

I was cleaning up a leg laceration about 1 1/2 inches long and 2cm deep. I placed the triple antibiotic ointment and approximated the edges with steri-strips, yet still encouraging the patient and her guardians to take her to the urgent care to get stitches. This wasn’t a sterile environment and our supplies were limited. While working on the wound of the young teen, I asked a few brief psychiatric intake questions. It turns out, no. She didn’t have anxiety, or depression, or psychosis. What do you know!? Not everyone does. But she and her guardians were super pleased to pray together before they left and I was blessed by them.  

God is a God of love and the kind of God that cares about all of it in all of us. S/He is kind and not miserly, discriminatory, or punitive in interest and connection to us.  

It sounds like from what i’m writing that psychiatry isn’t seen as a legitimate form of medicine in the church. Or maybe the church doesn’t refer to it, or support it.  

A friend from my group read this post and responded. 

“We hear a lot about emotions and behaviors in the church, and related directives. We don’t hear however about where emotions and behaviors come from. 

I hear, ‘just pray more,’ or that I am lacking in faith. The people in the church get defensive, as if they have to defend God. And that’s not it. Honestly, it’s not complimentary to me that they think I’m insulting God. They are in a way attacking my spirituality. But I know God is helping me and He’s here with me. But I’m still this way. I still feel this way.

There’s a taboo that mental health and disorders all get grouped into this one cringeworthy word, “Crazy.” We’re almost protecting God from crazy by staying away from it in the church. We forget about the sin factor. The separation between us and God. The loss of connection. The word crazy isn’t very nice. So if we say crazy and we say psychiatry and God, it’s almost like we are besmirching God.  

Self-Care tip:  Ask, and ask again, What does “this” say about the character of God? It comes back to “Me.”

Question:  Do see the Bible and your church talking about psychiatry? Where and how? What does it say about who God is? 

Keep on!

Still Believing Emotions are a Product of Life Stressors and Learned Patterns

Me: So Doctor. What do you think about the concept of God and psychiatry?

(I was speaking with a palliative care physician. We’ll label his answers as “P”, for palliative care physician.)

P: I’m not sure what you’re asking.

Me: Well some of us find it hard to think about emotions and behaviors as anything but related to moral values, right and wrong, good or bad, voluntary or involuntary, by choice. We have a hard time not thinking about them as largely spiritually related and not related to our biology.

P: God cares about our whole person, the “biopsychosocial.” That’s all part of it. It just turns out that culturally many of us mainly focus on the the psychosocial, and not the biological. We don’t think about that.

Interestingly, in the hay-day of homeopathic medical care, God told Ellen White to create an allopathic medical school; a school that taught scientific medical care. Thus, Loma Linda University was born, (then named College of Medical Evangelists). So clearly God wanted us to practice medicine also from a biological and scientific approach.

It’s hard to reach the culture though. If it’s total science or total religion, we’re still missing the whole person. The idea that emotions and behaviors come from our brain, well it’s not in our church. It’s not in our popular community either.

To me, psychiatry should not be distinguished form any medical specialty. But in the public mind, they’ll say, “Oh I’m not going to see a shrink.” They’ll see their general doctor, or pastor, but not go to the psychiatrist.

I wonder, was that problem created by the medical community separating this out or from the basic community culture?

Me: You’re first a product of your culture before you become a product of your medical training and the community of medicine, I suppose. It’s like those old adage’s about taking the person out of the “X, Y, or Z” place of birth, but never taking the “X, Y, or Z” out of the person. So as practicing physicians, pastors, therapists, or girl-friend next door, we’ll go through 30 some years of education learning otherwise, and then still believe at a visceral level that emotions and behaviors are a product of our life stressors and learned patterns, more so than the medical condition of our brain health.

Question: Do you see this in your community as well? Do you see the moralizing, qualifying, and quantifying of emotions and behaviors without considering their biological origins? Please speak!

Self-care tip: Consider what this says about who God is if this is true. What does it say about his character? In doing this as self-care, it will come back, around as a “place of safety” for what may otherwise be full of land mines.

Keep on!!

Emotions come from the brain.

Margarit was a lovely twenty-something, with blue-black bouncing hair above a slim pixy framed physique. She smiled easily and chattered like she was on telephone call that was about to lose reception. Her hands moved, conducting her thoughts between us. She was dressed like one of the cool girls on campus, out of my echelon, and who just might stab me in the back if I didn’t know better. But I did. She wasn’t mean. She was super sweet, like honey, and cane sugar, and mangos. Margarit was nice. But she had always wondered if she was being so nice all the time, because she was too nervous to be otherwise.

She came because she was constantly preoccupied by worries over things, “no one should be worried about”.

There had been the counsellors, therapists, and pastors consulted. Margarit and her parents had done their due diligence. With initiating each effort toward getting help for Margarit’s anxiety, they anticipated some degree of success. They thought things would get better. And sometimes they did, in degrees, and for a period of time. but the anxiety always came back. It got to the point that Margarit was put in home school, referenced her looping thoughts for everything, and was socially immobilized.

Maybe you’ve read, Gulliver’s Travels, 1726 by the Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift. When Gulliver shipwrecked and washed ashore unconscious, the numerous tiny Lilliputians effectively tied him down. The rope anchors were so small, like acupuncture needles, yet Gulliver could not move. That’s what anxiety does to us. We become internally preoccupied by it and can’t think much outside of our thoughts. We are immobilized.

The anxiety Margarit had been harassed with since a child took her freedoms away. It chose for her before she even knew what she would decide. Example; friends want me to go to the mall with them. “No,” Before her thoughts could even play with the option. Maybe she wouldn’t have gone anyways. Or maybe she would have. The anxiety chose first though and she wasn’t given the chance.

By Margarit’s third visit, she had improved significantly. She was getting to know herself, she thought, for the first time. I met the parents this visit and they looked at me as a front. I supposed it had been them up against so much for so long now, that they had learned to go at the world this way, like a man plow they both held on to. They asked me why no one had ever recommended for Margarit to seek medical treatment for anxiety.

"We would have done anything asked by one of these professionals we took her to. We thought they should know what to do, but they didn't tell us to get her medical help."

In my mind, I flashed to Naaman being told by Elishah to dunk in the dirty Jordan river seven times to cure his leprosy (2Kings 5). Psychiatry is the filthy river and dunking in it is the nonsensical act of taking psychotropics based on magic and miracles. They were here reluctantly having preferred to start with clergy and therapists, beat up by inappropriate guilt, but ready now to consider that anxiety, in Margarit’s case, is a medical symptom of a biological illness.

The question of why no one had referred them toward a medical approach for their daughter’s illness is a good one, though. I asked a pastor what he thought, and he spoke of the difficulty of not being a medical specialist; not knowing when to refer people. And what of the therapists? Likewise, I guess, that they generally have been trained to approach emotions and behaviors through a psychological and sociological paradigm. And what of the parents themselves? Did they, when their daughter broke her collar bone in the 3rd grade after Christy pushed her off the swings, take her to the emergency room or to the movies for a night out? The ER. But when her daughter showed preoccupied thoughts that permeated her days, affecting her choices, small or large, affecting her sleep, and so forth, they did not think that the thoughts were related to anything medical, coming from her brain. They did not think that the thoughts were more than coping skills, or habits, or choice.

It is a condition of our humanity to want to look at thoughts and behaviors as many bits of our life control to be manipulated intentionally. As if we could. Like “The Matrix.” Or cooking a soufflé. Or driving a 1969 Chevrolet Camero. Shift already! There’s the good intentioned phrase, “Calm down.” “Take a chill pill.”

Oh good. Someone finally said it. If they didn’t I never would have thought of that. Now I am calm because I was told to be calm.

Emotions and behaviors come from the brain. Take the brain out and no matter what chaos hits, we would feel fine. Take the chaos away, and leave the brain in, we are still left with the brain, and what ever condition of health the brain is in.  So if the brain is ill, it expresses itself in a way that is ill. If the brain is healthy, the emotions and behaviors are healthy. They are symptoms of a medical condition.

Question: Where do you find your sense of control comes from, considering the biological paradigm? Let’s talk folks!

Self-Care Tip: Consider the biology behind whatever it is that feel and do.