The latest subject of our How I Sleep series is the legendary Californian winemaker Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon who frequently tweets to his huge Twitter following about his lack of sleep
So what causes his insomnia and how does he deal with it?
Q Have you always slept badly, Randall?
A Not that I remember. My insomnia seems to have begun about twenty years ago after I broke up with a girlfriend. Perhaps this is too much information, but the breakup seemed to shatter my world, at least my ability to sleep. I think that the ability to sleep is at least partially predicated on a sense of living in a relatively benign and ordered world, and I’m quite sure that order has yet to be re-established in my world.
Q How much sleep do you actually get on an average night?
A Generally four to six fitful hours (in sum). If I get six or more I’m just thrilled.
Q What keeps you awake? Alcohol and books seem to play a part according to the above tweet! Or worry?
A In fact, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever falling asleep, as I am usually dead tired – I have to be careful not to fall asleep with the lights on, as that will usually produce bad consequences – but the problem is staying asleep.
I’m relatively certain that it’s multiple factors that wake me up – undoubtedly worry on some level but more mechanically, maybe sleep apnea. I’ve recently gone for a sleep study and should hear the results fairly soon. If it’s not sleep apnea, then I’m really at a great loss to figure out what to do next. Though the prospect of wearing a Darth Vader mask to sleep is not particularly inviting. (As a parenthetical tirade against the U.S. mercenary health insurance system: If you have insurance, you can get a CPap machine, but you have to absolutely positively wear it every night (the insurance company somehow knows if you’ve done this), and if not they come and take it away. So, apparently, you’re either all the way in for this treatment, or you’re out.)
Q What do you do when you can’t get to sleep or wake up at night?
A My ritual before bed is to do crossword puzzles, which I find quite relaxing; it seems to tire my eyes, and I can easily segue into sleep. When I wake up very awake @ 3:00 a.m., I might also read or do crossword puzzles. If I’m feeling particularly irresponsible about the state of my health, I might take out my cellphone and look at Twitter. This is apparently the very worst thing you can do as far as the likelihood of ever getting back to sleep that evening. The digital screen apparently stimulates your brain (as does light in general), making it a lot more difficult to fall back asleep.
Q Have you tried any conventional (or unconventional) sleep remedies? (e.g. pills? A more comfortable bed? Darkening the room? Meditation? …..)
A I’ve tried any number of things, but I’m unfortunately a terrible patient, and often don’t follow through with initiatives for long enough to see if they work. Again, I’m pretty certain that my sleep issues are related to my breathing, which I think is likely related to some sort of chronic sinus congestion. If I can just get into a routine of rinsing out my sinuses with a salt-water neti pot, I think that would be quite salutary. (Note to self: try it again, RG.)
The other thing that I think could be helpful is boosting magnesium uptake. I’m told that the best formulation to absorb magnesium is magnesium glycinate, but it’s available in other forms (typically citrate, which poses some other issues.) There is also a sort of topical magnesium liquid, which is also said to be effective. I’ve read that most of us are not getting enough magnesium in our diets anyway, so this is probably something that’s worth trying for a lot of people.
I would certainly do very well to get in a lot more exercise. I spend far too much time in airplanes and hotel rooms.
One more thing: I’ve found an over-the-counter formulation called Kavinace – it comes in two strengths – normal and extra-forte (or whatever it’s called). I think that it has some kava-kava, hops, magnesium, and in the stronger formulation, melatonin. It seems to work reasonably well.
Q Are you a dreamer? If so what kind of dreams do you have?
A Not much of a dreamer, at least while I’m asleep.
Q You’re always jetting around. Can you sleep on planes? How do you deal with different time-zones?
A I absolutely cannot sleep on planes, unless I take industrial strength sleeping aids, and even then it’s tricky. The problem with some of the sleeping pills I’m told is that they can make you very very spacey when you wake up, and you can easily forget to pick up things – like your luggage, etc. Oddly enough, I seem to sleep much better when I’m on the east coast of the U.S. It seems that my body-clock prefers E.S.T.
Q Do you think lack of sleep makes you more creative?
A I don’t think so. Maybe it’s the opposite; my restless mind makes it more difficult for me to sleep. When I don’t get enough sleep, my thinking (and memory) is more than a little fuzzy. Sometimes fuzzy thinking can perhaps lead you into a kind of creative zone, I suppose, when you are not censoring so much. But I think I could perhaps benefit from being slightly less creative and a little more skilled in how I execute and that would certainly benefit from a good nights’ sleep.
Q Let’s leave sleep for a moment. Tell me something about wine
A Well, the most interesting thing I can report is that I am really taking the creation of new varieties/seed project at San Juan Bautista a lot more seriously. We’ve been a little held up the last several years, owing to a lack of available cash. I’m talking to various people about crowd-funding this project, so that I might well have a shot at seeing something come to fruition in this brief lifetime. We will also harvest a very small amount of Ruche from the vineyard this year; how utterly cool is that!