In the depths of grumpiness, the seeds of bliss can be found. Here’s how I know:

I was working out with Barbara today at Body Dynamics. I’ve been feeling sort of badly that Barbara keeps having to jolly me along lately; I’ve begun to dread my workouts. (I think this is seasonal; my grizzly bear DNA says it’s time to hibernate, damn it.)

(That’s how grizzly bear DNA talks. It’s not just time to hibernate. It’s time to hibernate, DAMN IT.)

So I’ve been relying on habit and the implacable demands of having appointments on the books to keep me going. Gritted teeth and a refusal to give up, even if I find little joy in what I’m doing and the jeans aren’t getting any looser.

But this is tough on Barbara (and Grace and Chip and Gwynn) – I imagine at the beginning of a January cold snap they have nothing BUT rosters of grumpy clients who they’d prefer to take a cattle prod to. You wouldn’t know it, though; the entire Body Dynamics team either puts on a brilliant game face as soon as the doors open or they really DO like coming to work every day, because they’re all still happy and energetic and eager to laugh at/with a client who can’t find her glutes.

I was running/walking on the treadmill today, grumpily plotting fierce rebellion and sending out waves of black temper to tarnish the joy of anyone around me. “When was the last time you ran?” Barbara asked.

I grimaced. “It was in 2018.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

She checked her records; she was right. I’d run in 2019, but just barely. “It’s been 21 days since you ran. You’re doing SO WELL!”

Hm. I don’t think so.

Then we went after individual muscles – including the aforementioned glutes, which are inert masses on my backside and always have been. I think Barbara is puzzled by what she must see as my willful refusal to use my glutes. I can’t even feel them to turn them off; I don’t say I wouldn’t if I could – after all, I frequently plot rebellion and insurrection. But I have no idea how to communicate with those muscles, so I take neither credit nor blame.

After a great deal of griping and whining on my part, the last of sixty minutes ticked past and I stomped out, a thundercloud of delight for all who came near me.

“What is the MATTER with me?” I wondered.

I got in the car and drove from the parking garage into the blinding sun. Fumbling for my sunglasses, I put them on and was immediately fogged in by the waves of heat coming off my face. More grumbling.

Finally I cracked the sunroof. It’s 24 degrees in Falls Church, Virginia – not as cold as some parts of the nation (my son, in Vermont, reported that it was a degree yesterday. The only use of “degree” in the singular. This amuses me.) but still plenty crisp.

If I’m quick on the sunroof controls, I can stop it before the sound and wind baffles kick in; at one very specific point, I can force outside air onto my head like a wind tunnel. That’s what I did, figuring some freezing air might de-fog my specs and chill out my grumpitude.

And OH MY GOD it felt good.

I remember when I was a kid and we only had air conditioners in the bedrooms, I’d attempt to stand in front of the open freezer door for as long as possible in the summer until my mother would protest that I was melting the ice cubes; shut the door.


Of course, the air blows only on the right side of my head, so I had to turn and angle my head to send that bliss over the left side, too. Over the skin. Into the hair. Across the crown of the head. Around the eye sockets. And then I got on the highway.

The noise was epic – but OH LORDY. I drove along at 70 (not TOO illegal; there are parts of the Capital Beltway where you can go 65 legally) twisting my head around like those old “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” Breck commercials where a supermodel with a blow dryer forced even more hotness into her lustrous mane. Only mine was icy cold and my face was blotchy and hot.

And suddenly everything was fine.

I left my black mood in a million tiny pieces behind me in the express lanes of the Beltway, blown away by the cold. Yes, I know the exercise released endorphins and it just took a while for them to kick in – but what a mitzvah that cold, cold air was.


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By the way – when I opened the sunroof, it was a relentless 24 degrees out. By the time I got home, it was 28. I take credit for that rising temp; my skin was VERY hot. See how hard I work out?!

Regulate after NIGHT ELEVEN


Well, now I’m confused.

If the alarm goes off at 8AM and I wake up all Disney-like – stretching my arms up luxuriously and smiling at the birds singing and twittering at my window (okay – I mean the gray light of midmorning forcing its way between the slats) – then is that because I’ve finally gotten the right hormone regulated?

That is, have I persuaded the wake-up hormone cortisol to get with the program and do what it’s supposed to do after eleven straight mornings of waking up at 8AM?

Or is it because the go-to-sleep hormone melatonin now has the chance to put me to sleep at TEN THIRTY AT NIGHT??

So when the alarm went off at 8, I’d been pretty much asleep for NINE AND A HALF FRICKIN’ HOURS??!

Actually, I woke up at about 4:20 this morning, but I’ve figured out how to get my 100 ounces of water into my body AND ALSO stop drinking at around seven at night, so my bladder wasn’t desperate and I didn’t have to get up; I only lay in bed for about half an hour in an in-between awake/asleep time, telling myself a story (about how I’d hide a handsome stranger on the run from bad guys in my house while the faux-cops searched for him; I’ve been binge-watching “Justified” while knitting and such shenanigans seem entirely reasonable at 4:30 in the morning) until I put myself back to sleep.

So what’s the answer? I woke up easily because I’d slept for an astonishingly long time? For the eleventh day in a row?

Or because the cortisol was doing its job and waking me up?

And does it matter which?

Chicken or egg? Paper or plastic? Timothy Olyphant or Nathan Fillion? Do we really have to choose?!

I’m enjoying this long run of handsome men in my posts of late. In review: We’ve recently had Harrison Ford as Indy, Jason Momoa, Rob Lowe, and now Timothy Olyphant. Really – it’s a public service I’m doing by illegally posting these images. And it’s all in the name of BETTER SLEEP.

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On the other hand, if I keep posting photos of smokin’ hot men, luring in potential readers, and then they discover the blog is about a fat old lady trying to get healthy, mightn’t that annoy people? Jeez. THAT’S not the goal. But really – would you rather see a photo of me snoring? Yeah – me neither.

Regulate after NIGHT SEVEN


I’ve been sleeping by the clock for a week now. Lights out at 11; alarm goes off at 8 – no screens allowed between those hours.

Actually, no screens allowed between 10PM and 8AM, since Chip, the Body Dynamics nutritionist, says that the blue light of screens influences both the melatonin and the cortisol hormones – so no screens for an hour before bedtime, too.

Sometimes, I’ve found, I get rushed into the evening and can’t finish Rachel Maddow until AFTER 10PM, and then I tell myself I’ll just turn out the lights at 11:15 or 11:30 or whatever – as long as I’m out before midnight, I figure I’m good…

…but 11:00 rolls around and I’m so damned sleepy that I can’t keep my eyes open any longer and I give up and go to sleep.

This is highly unusual for me. I enjoy staying up late. Professor Bice, who taught Psych 101 a million years ago at the University of Virginia, told me confidentially (well, I was sitting in an auditorium with 299 other underclassmen, but he was a great teacher and I FELT like he was confiding a gossipy bit of news just to me) that somewhere in Scandinavia, where night lasts all winter long, some scientists set out to assess a truly uninfluenced sleep cycle.

So they took some willing grad students and put them in bunkers underground and totally isolated them. They had food for three months and all the school books they could want to study for their final exams.

(What kind of schools in Scandinavia were these? Where you could be absent from class for three months and then show up to ace the exam and everyone was fine with that? Maybe they were working on doctoral dissertations down there in their bunkers; I don’t know.)

And then they tracked when the students went to sleep and woke up by monitoring when their lights were on or off.

I don’t remember the results; it was something like when allowed to adjust to their own rhythms, the body’s hormones didn’t really like a 24-hour cycle and preferred something different. What, you may ask? I’m sorry – I was a terrible student. I don’t remember. But the concept has always stuck with me: What would YOUR body do if you had no sunrise/sunset, dinner to make, Good Morning America? What would your natural rhythm REALLY be?

Of course, we don’t live in bunkers. (At least, I don’t. I make no assertions about you!) And there ARE cues that begin or end our days. And I’ve now, after seven days, got the “go to sleep” cues all lined up and working for me.

I’m still missing the “get up” cues. So for the second week of my two-week experiment, I’m self-imposing EVEN MORE DRACONIAN regulations.

When the alarm goes off, I don’t have to leap out of bed immediately – but I can’t pull over the iPad to check messages or Facebook or any other form of delayed rising. I can lie there and admire how nice it feels when my hip flexors aren’t on high alert, but that’s it.

And by 8:30, I must have not just gotten up but also:

  • Peed (always the top priority in the morning – still working on getting in 100 ounces of water a day, and those 100 ounces have to come back out eventually)
  • Dressed myself in clothes you could answer the door in
  • Brushed my teeth and hair
  • MADE THE BED (I said these rules were Draconian)
  • Opened the bedroom curtains
  • Fed the dog and let him out.

Then and only then can I delve into the electronic world.

I’m thinking that by holding off on “what happened during the night that I missed?” until I accomplish that list, I’ll be a little more zippy in the early morning half-hour. And that, as much as the time the alarm goes off, should influence the cortisol to come on stronger and help me wake up perky after a great night’s sleep.

Because I don’t live in a bunker and I can’t just sleep and wake as I please. So why not let all those external cues work FOR me for once?!


Note the shadows in this photo; the sun only hits my office desk in the morning, when I’m rarely awake… or at least, when I used to be rarely awake. Isn’t this a bold and dramatic shot? Pretty – sunshine! I feel like a healing vampire.

Regulate after NIGHT FIVE


You remember dreams only if you wake up during the night, so they can go from short-term to long-term memory. The same dreams are spooling out when you’re sleeping straight through; you just don’t remember them.

So I know that I really WAS tossing and turning all night last night.

(So often we assume we had a bad night’s sleep when in reality we were just unconscious during most of it.)

Because I had some weird and vivid dreams.

Melatonin is in the right cycle; I get sleepy as evening wears on. In fact, I can’t wait for bedtime because I’m worn out from the day and longing to sleep. (Although – last night, I did get caught up in the current book, which is Martin Cruz Smith’s Polar Star, in which ace Moscow police detective Arkady Renko is working on a fish filet factory ship in the North Sea, which is every bit as grim as you might imagine, and STILL he’s smarter than everyone else around him; love me some Arkady, and Polar Star is the best of a great bunch.)

Where was I?

Right – I bid Arkady a reluctant good night and snapped off my light at a little after 11.

Then I was up at 1:30.

And 3:30.

And 4:15. Not ENOUGH melatonin to keep me under.

At least the dreams were interesting. There was one connected dream that stretched across several grumpy roll over/go pee/sit up/punch the pillow episodes. In it, my sister Twig was waiting in my car while I ran into our childhood Safeway for something.

But in the Safeway were all these friends, and I got to gabbing. My good pal Rob Lowe (his presence in my dream obviously a product of too many Brat Pack movies in my youth, not to mention Parks and Rec, mmmm) had just invited me to assess how soft his new necktie was – isn’t that silky? Why, yes, Rob, it really is – when I saw Twig outside.

I found her and she handed me my car keys. I have a kidney infection, she said, and it’s really, really bad. She stomped off to walk home. I can drive you, I called plaintively, but she wouldn’t hear me.

(I actually think I might have a kidney infection; I’m going to the doc to investigate on Friday. That’s neither here nor there; I just think these ties to reality help to ground a dream.)

So then I couldn’t find my car. I stood in the rainy dark night as Rob and my other friends bid me a cheerful farewell. No car in the parking lot. Hah – I have a (dream-based) GPS tracker on my car; I’ll use that. Off I walked, down rainy country roads, following the beep of my car.

Look – there it is. Twig has disguised it as a huge, Transformers-like tow truck parked on the more-or-less lawn of some disreputable and very dark home. No, wait – it’s not the tow truck; my car is in the bed of the pick-up (this tow truck had a pick-up bed with two silver cars in it; mine was hidden behind the other) (and it was my last car, not the Countess). Clearly this was going to have to wait until tomorrow.

Never mind – I’ll go to my OTHER car. (I don’t have another car.) (Well, I do, but it’s not a green, impossibly small Fiat with a bizarre sunroof composed of square glass tiles that slid against each other to open.) Here it is, parked down the street. Oh, Lord, I’ve left the strange sunroof open and it’s raining; now my little car is going to smell. As I was standing on the sidewalk next to my little car, a large pick-up truck pulled off the road and onto the sidewalk; as it slowed to stop, it struck me a glancing blow on the head with its massive chrome grill.

I fell back into the wet leaves. I’m fine, I called – I can already tell I’m fine. (I might be wrong, I thought – but I didn’t want to worry the collection of teenagers now staring at me anxiously from the truck.) Two boys hopped out. They helped me up. You forgive us, don’t you? Yes, of course – now get out of here before I find out there’s something wrong and I change my mind about forgiving you.

Then I woke up.

Bizarre. Very vivid.

By the time it got to be 7:40 (my alarm was set for 8), I was exhausted from trying to sleep and gave up and admitted I was awake.

So does that mean the cortisol was doing its job waking me up? Or was the melatonin simply out of whack? I have no idea. I suspect I’m going to be tired today – and my To Do list just isn’t that long. I’m going to have to find ways to avoid napping. Arkady, I’m counting on you.

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Rob Lowe. Cute all his damned life. And – nice tie.

Regulate after NIGHT TWO


Melly (the delicate, easily-bullied hormone that controls getting sleepy) is enjoying her vacation from her abuser, the barrel-chested Cort(isol). Last night I couldn’t stay awake past 9:30, which is WEIRD for me.

But Cort – like all schoolyard bullies – is refusing to play fair. I was definitely not perky at 8AM when the alarm went off.

So, you think – you went to sleep at 9:30PM and were still groggy at 8AM? Is there something you’re not telling us? Drug use? Night stalking? Demonic possession?

No – nothing so interesting. I just woke up last night.

A lot.

At 1:30, I realized my 20-year-old son hadn’t come back from dinner yet. Sure, he’s a college kid; if he wasn’t at home, I wouldn’t even know to worry. That was immaterial; as I lay there in the darkness itching to pull out my iPad and kill some time (NO! BAD!), I envisioned him dead in a ditch.

Forget that there ARE no ditches in over-developed Fairfax County. And there ARE grossly-overfit cops everywhere. And the kid has ID. So the chances of him being both dead (or unconscious) and also unidentified are extremely unlikely.

Didn’t matter. I worked myself into a state and violated the NO SCREENS rule to text him. “Are you dead?” I asked wittily.

“Movies,” he replied. (This morning he reported that he and his buds saw “Aquaman.” It gets the 20-year-old boy’s Strong Thumbs Down. “What an endless waste of time.” “But he was pretty, right?” I asked hopefully; I dig the trailers. “Sure, but not pretty enough.”)

(Hey. I was going to post Bill the Cat as my image, but now I have an excuse to post Jason Momoa’s naked chest. Good for your dreams. Bonus!)

Anyway, I did a lot of spinning and punching of pillows and grumbling and not looking at screens all night long, until – as usual – I fell into the deepest, best sleep at about dawn.

This is going to change. I’m sure of it. I’m hopeful of it.

Morning sleep is the best sleep AT THE MOMENT. Soon it will be nighttime sleep and then won’t I be efficient and well-rested?!

After night two, the point is: Not yet. But soon!

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Jason Momoa. Rrraow.

Regulate after NIGHT ONE


Cortisol is the hormone that wakes you up. Melatonin is what makes you sleepy. To me, Cortisol is a barrel-chested man who bumps into the furniture and then utters a useless “Oh – sorry about that.” Melatonin is just like Miss Melly in Gone with the Wind (“Mel” being the link, of course) – long-suffering and sweet and pale and inclined to dying after birthin’ a baby like an obedient little wet blanket. She won’t stand a chance against Cort unless I get him back on his own orbit and off of hers.

Surprisingly, it takes MORE than 24 hours to reset those cortisol levels… Go figure.

On my first night of at least 14 planned nights of attempting to regulate my sleep, I fell short of the plan – but I’m working on moderation. If I’m not PERFECT, I’m not allowed to give up. I just have to keep working on it.

So the plan was to enter the “no screens” hour before bedtime by 10-ish, but I went out to dinner with friends and we sat around for a LONG time yakking and giggling, so I ran late. (But I ate no sugar! Yay me!)

Still, I did my yoga moves, and re-arranged my bedroom a little (it’s been years since I needed a good reading light by my bed) and was in bed reading by 11:15. What did I read? An ancient copy of “Leave it to Psmith” by PG Wodehouse that I know I loved about four decades ago but can no longer remember.

Still not sure I love it again; I got about five pages in and crashed with an audible thud. Thursdays are my big work-out days (Balance Class with Barbara followed by Stretch Class with Grace) so I tend to be tired anyway. Virtuously, I turned out my light at 11:30.

I’m deeply susceptible to suggestion, so once Chip told me that my late-night Damn-it’s-hot flashes were influenced by sugar – and once I skipped dessert for the first time since God was a pup – I slept right through the usual 2:30 – 3:30 wake-up phase. Nice!

Still, when the alarm went off at 8:30, I had my usual morning GAK response.

(The word GAK as typified by Bill the Cat in some comic long gone now is best expanded as me thinking “There is NO WAY IN HELL I’m getting out of bed this early; it’s cruel and unusual to even contemplate it. I will belligerently roll over and go back to sleep with malice of forethought.”) (See? Saying GAK is faster.)

But going to bed at a reasonable hour is only going to work if I get up at a reasonable hour too, and eventually my goal is 7:30 every morning. (The dog is going to LOVE this plan.) My wake-up hormone (cortisol) is supposed to be peaking about as the sun rises, and I need to train it to follow the light/dark pattern so the far-less-activist melatonin can have the chance to make me sleepy in the evening.

So setting the alarm (for 8:30 today) is only part of the agony; I also have to GET UP. Today it took 15 minutes, but I was vertical (and grumpy about it) by 8:45. Okay, maybe 8:50. Hell, I don’t remember. Too early for me, too late for the plan – so we call that a compromise and move on.

I was a slacker until 1, but then did have a very productive afternoon, including running stairs – at a pace that could only be called “running” if you were feeling very kindly toward me, showering, anointing myself with various unguents and potions, taking down all the indoor Xmas decorations, doing all the laundry (okay, there are still bed sheets to be folded), and plotting the plan of attack for a goth baby blanket for my future great-niece or nephew. (I’m going to knit a stormy purple blanket and then duplicate-stitch in a crimson spider web with a large, menacing red spider lowering down to land on the outstretched hand reaching out of a cradle… may need a schpoot of help with the art!) (Doesn’t that sound cool? And good for a very goth couple?)

I’m watching the clock carefully. Knowing I’m going to have to put all screens aside by 9 or so has made me jealous of my screen time. Like a middle-school kid with a curfew. Do I REALLY want to waste my time on solitaire?!

Did you know that you CAN pee without a phone or tablet in your hand? I know. Astonishing.







It was as if he was about to divulge the secrets of the Lost Ark and I’d said “Hang on, now – where’s Egypt, again?”

Chip the charming nutritionist at Body Dynamics has worked with me before; our “check-up” meeting should have proceeded along quite standard lines.

Instead, I shanghai’ed the conversation before it even began by saying “You know, I don’t get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.”

Chip’s reaction was the visual equivalent of pushing the reset button. Everything he can do to help me achieve nutritional health, it turns out, is hamstrung by a lack of sleep… and the more we talked, the clearer it was that all the issues I was having were at least influenced (if not outright caused) by poor “sleep hygiene.”

Including the MASTER demon in my nutritional hall of nightmares, sugar.

“When I’m well-rested,” I said, innocently making his case for him, “I’m better at resisting sweet foods.”

“Of course,” he said as if I’d said that it’s useful to inhale after I exhale. So I hastened to disabuse him of the notion that sleeping through the night was entirely under my control.

“I’m peri-menopausal,” I offered. “I wake up in the middle of the night so damned hot. So I get up and then I’m up for a few hours. That’s hormones.” I finished in triumph, sure I’d managed to overcome any insistence that I was in control here.

Chip is a wilier opponent than that. “Guess what influences hormone levels?”

“Sleep?” I guessed suspiciously.

“No. Sugar.” (D’oh! Sugar is ALWAYS the answer with Chip, just as any question Barbara asks can be answered by an automatic “Abdominals.”)

“So the hot flashes are more extreme if I eat sugar?”

“Try and see.” He looked smug. I know what the answer is.

“And I can resist sugar if I get more sleep.”

He nodded.

“And if I get more sleep, I can resist sugar. There are times when you’re very annoying.”

“Annoying but right.”

Chip, despite having every possible answer that points to ice cream sundaes being an unwise choice, is really a very dreamy guy. We talked about how to improve my sleep hygiene (this phrase gives me the giggles) – and the answer is to better regulate my schedule.

I can do just about anything for ten to fourteen days – my determination lasts about that long without reinforcement – so I’m going to embark on a REGULATION EXPERIMENT. These are its outlines:

  1. I’m going to dial way back on the sugar. Three desserts or treats a week and NO MORE. (Sure. For ten days to two weeks? I can hack that.)
  2. I’m going to do my evening “yoga flow” while watching Rachel Maddow, my spirit animal. I’ll give her half an hour before starting so I can fast-forward over the commercials, so I’ll start that at 9:30. That’ll last until 10:15.
  3. Once I turn off the TV, there’s 45 minutes to an hour for non-screen awake time. This means reading a physical book. No e-reader; the blue light of the screen is messing with my melatonin/cortisol levels. (I almost understand this and will explain poorly if anyone cares.)
  4. Between 11 and 12, I turn off the lights and lie in bed to stare at the ceiling. Eventually my body will learn that this is bedtime and I’ll actually fall asleep. Theoretically.
  5. I’ll set my alarm for the gaggingly-early hour of 7:30, and get up at that time every day. Yes – even weekends. Shudder. Again theoretically, my body will adjust to constancy so I’ll get up that early without feeling like I’m entering a disjointed hellscape.

No iPad if/when I wake up in the middle of the night. No cheating.

For ten to fourteen days.

I’m curious about what will happen. For so long, I’ve been at my smartest in the evening; I write better at night. I think better at night. Chip says that’s because I’m “cortisol dominant” – the “wake up” hormone is out of whack. I can regulate and get that brightness to show up in the morning.


So this is the beginning of a new phase, courtesy of a nutritionist who doesn’t think nutrition is the ONLY answer to better health. Interesting experiment, huh? I’ll report back on how it’s going. (And if you decide to try it, too, I hope you’ll share your findings in the comments!)

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It’s my unscientific belief that blog posts are more eagerly read if they feature images of hugely attractive people doing exciting and exotic things. Who here thought, as I did, that when they finally opened the Ark, it would be freaking crawling with snakes?