Why do we yawn? It’s probably not because we’re bored. How often do you yawn because you’re bored? We take in more oxygen when we yawn. Maybe we need more oxygen. I believe yawning was a signal we developed before we used language. It might have been a way to show our teeth before fighting. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes yawn when you’re nervous? I always thought I yawned before a test because I was tired after staying up all night. I thought I yawned before surgery while I was in residency because I had been on call the night before, and yet I wasn’t actually tired. I never really put much thought to it, until recently when I began to notice that I often yawn before horse competitions. My trainer will be giving me tips on how to go in there and win, and I’m yawning away.
Sometimes I yawn toward the end of a meeting. Sometimes at the end of a long dinner. Do I look bored? Or is it a transition? An involuntary way of saying “it’s time for something else.”
So, picture a group of cavemen sitting around a camp fire. It’s late. The sun is down. Do cavemen just start falling asleep, lying down in place while the others are still picking their skin and grunting? Does the first caveman to fall asleep feel safe, there in the midst of those with whom he competes for food and women? No. He most certainly doesn’t. So, maybe the strongest, most anxious one yawns. Shows his teeth. It’s a signal. A signal that it’s time for something else. And because he has big teeth, the others know that it’s time for them to do something else as well. And if it’s a Paleolithic night and there’s no light, then it’s time for nigh-night.
So back to my theories regarding the basis of so much of the way we are being the way our early ancestors were: the caveman with the best, most directive yawn, survived. He got to tell everyone else it was time to go to sleep. No one stayed up after he gave his signal, and therefore no one got to beat him over the head after he closed his eyes. He got the food. He got the chicks. He got to pass on his strong yawning genes. Ladies…don’t get turned off by the guy who yawns at the end of a date. Go for the guy with the best yawn. He’s not bored. He’s just telling you “it’s time for something else.” And he’s telling other men in the restaurant to back off.
I got a little off the subject of getting sleep. I just think that’s an interesting way to look at yawning. But suffice it to say that when the yawning started…everyone went to sleep. And it was dark. And quiet in a Paleolithic kind of way. There was probably a certain level of noise, but it was predictable…and it was white noise. Think about the noise of crickets when you live in the country or camp out. The crickets stop if they hear a loud human noise. Otherwise they just keep on chirping.
Cavemen didn’t have cell phone battery lights shining in their eyes. They didn’t have fire alarm lights flashing all night long. They didn’t have glowing clocks or motion detector lights. They didn’t have green “alarm ready” or red “alarm on” lights, or cell phone charging lights.
Are your eyes closed at night? Have you ever watched someone else sleep? Their lids are always cracked open a tiny amount and you can see their irises moving back and forth. Of course, you can make stupid faces or gestures and they won’t wake up, but somewhere in there, the brain knows there are lights flashing. What your brain should be doing is recognizing sunlight as it rises over the horizon. Time to wake up!
So here are some tips to get more sleep.
Many years ago, a patient of mine recommended Buckys eye pads. They’re not just your average nighttime eye pad. They’re padded so they don’t put pressure on your eyelids. They don’t force your eyes to close completely like the flat ones do. And they have a little pouch in them so you can put a sachet of your favorite nighty-night scent in it. So, I tried them…and I slept like a log. Now I’m addicted to those things. I put it up on my forehead like a sweat band, while I’m reading in bed, and within minutes of starting to read, I’m ready to pull it down and snore away.
At night, it’s important to get as comfortable as possible and to block out extraneous sensory invasion. Get a sound machine. White noise helps block out the little noises…and sometimes big noises (like snoring) which are ever present during the night. I prefer the simple sound of rushing air. I tried the sound apps on my ipad; the ones that make really relaxing sounds like rushing water and chirping birds, but what happened was that I started to recognize the repeat in the recording and then I would start listening for it, and it kind of drove me nuts. The white noise is just very plain noise. This is the white noise machine I’ve been using for years…with much success. But suit yourself.
And yes, I even take a travel white noise machine with me in my suitcase when I travel.
Why do people buy cheap mattresses? I think you should buy the most expensive mattress you can possibly afford. After all, bed is the place where you spend the longest continuous period of time each day. When you go to a mattress store, be prepared to stay there awhile. Wear comfortable clothes, like warm ups and don’t be embarrassed to spend plenty of quality time checking out the mattresses. I recommend a firm mattress with a memory foam pillow top. It’s also quite easy to convert a stiff mattress to a suitable one by covering it with a memory foam mattress topper. That’s a little easier on the pocketbook.
Don’t eat late. Keep your feet warm at night. Buy the best pillows you can afford as well. For more on pillows, see my post called Feather Your Nest.
Some of the issues with sleeping might be behavioral. Never just stay in bed fretting about the lack of sleep. It creates kind of a vicious cycle of anxiety. Get up. Go to another room. If you have an extra bedroom, go there and read. If you don’t, go find a comfy couch. Perhaps you’ll soon be off to sleep. In time, you’ll develop the habit of sleeping rather than the habit of not sleeping. And we need our sleep, in order to deal with all the Neanderthals.