Latin Lesson

Good evening. I just got up from a nap a bit ago. I normally don’t nap but this transportation business has me all screwed up. They picked me up over an hour earlier than ‘necessary’ (according to me) again this morning. Good grief. I have mentioned I am not a morning person so happy camper I am not. Now I will be up for a while.

You know the phrase “do as I say, not as I do”?  Getting my sleep messed up like this is a no-no. There is all sorts of evidence that regular, good quality sleep is one of the foundations of good health.

It is also a foundation piece of good mental health. In case you have not figured this out yet, I should tell you getting the diagnosis of AMD was a trauma. (No shit, Sherlock.) And one of the simplest ways to combat trauma? Sleep.

Let me start by saying I am not talking about sleeping to escape reality. That is a whole other ballgame. If you are depressed and sleeping excessively, go see your doctor for good drugs and a referral to a mental health therapist.

What I am talking about is the trauma processing ability of sleep. Processing. Not avoidance. Five or six years ago people at UC Berkeley started some really cool research into the relationship between depression and PTSD and sleep. The researchers recognized people with depression and PTSD have lousy sleep. The worse the sleep, the longer the mental illness persisted. Those who slept better, healed faster. How interesting, Watson. With that realization, the game was afoot!

It was hypothesized sleep somehow lets the brain process -sort of like digest- traumatic events and raw emotions. There is something about the brain chemistry of REM or dream sleep that allows memories to be reactivated and integrated into the whole of remembered experience.

There is also this interesting interaction among some of the parts of the paleocortex. Paleocortex means old brain. (Literally ‘old bark’ in Latin. Like a tree, not a dog. Translating it back does tend to make it all sound a lot less formidable; doesn’t it?)

Anyway, I digress again. Five years of high school Latin should have some use!

In the paleocortex are all these very basic, survival-oriented bits of brain ‘machinery’. The two we are concerned with in this discussion are the hippocampus (Latin for ‘seahorse’, by the way. Vague resemblance. The brain part naming guys took Latin in high school, too) and the amygdala (absolutely no idea, sorry).

The hippocampus is related to memory retention and the amygdala is related to emotion. Basic emotion. Survival stuff. As in fight, flight or freeze. Being in the same neighborhood, these brain bits talk to each other. They talk to one another a lot. Sometimes they get talking to each other so much they work each other into a frenzy. “I have this horrible memory! OMG!” “What a threatening thing! I need to get very worked up!” “Threatening?! Oh, yes, my horrible memory!”

Sleep gets in there and calms all this down. It allows the neocortex (‘new bark’) to get a few words in and be the voice of reason. It helps to establish a dialogue between the rational brain (the part that knows you can get help and can think clearly about your situation) and the old brain bits that are flipping out.

Sounds all rather elementary. But it is not a perfect fix. As Holmes would say, “Begin at the beginning” with sleep. If it is not enough, seek additional help.

Right now, I am going back to bed.?

Next: The Games People Play

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