Saturday, November 9, 2013

Breakfast of champions

Guilty pleasure: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and banana
All due respect to Wheaties (for which the phrase "Breakfast of Champions" is trademarked), I don't consider them a healthy breakfast. I much prefer oat cereal. Peter cooks steel-cut oats three mornings a week when the kids are here, and we doctor it with plain yogurt, cinnamon, a little brown sugar, almonds, bananas, and/or blueberries.  Last summer at the lake, their mom cooked oatmeal every morning with applies and raisins, and she pre-cooked the brown sugar with a little butter. It was heavenly.

To my surprise, I discovered that dry cereals calling themselves Oat This and Oat That often have more wheat than oats. I just don't trust wheat anymore; it's been modified until it produces huge crops that aren't good for us. As I read somewhere (and I wish I could remember where because it helped clarify my thinking: It's not your grandmother's wheat anymore.When I want to grab a dry cereal, I've turned to plain Cheerios. Sometimes I experiment with a more exotic granola-type cereal; right now I'm eating something with flax seeds and quinoa.

But as you may have guessed, I'm really here to talk about a guilty pleasure.

In the 1970s, General Mills (who happen to make both Wheaties and Cheerios) opened a small chain of Betty Crocker Pie Shops. The first time I ate there, I fell in love with Peanut Butter-Banana Cream Pie. When I returned for it I learned they only made it occasionally, and the pie shop staff had no idea when it would appear again. I got into the habit of calling, and if it was on the menu I was there.

The chain didn't last long, and I never cared enough to try making peanut butter-banana cream pie on my own. But about 10 years ago I found myself with some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on hand after Halloween. I took them to the office. On the same day, I happened to take a banana. The banana wasn't unusual because I never managed to eat breakfast at home.

On that magical day I got the bright idea of taking a bite of banana and then a bite of Peanut Butter Cup. Woohoo! Instant taste treat. And instant guilty pleasure. The candy is overloaded with sugar, coloring, preservatives, emulsifiers, who knows what. I will pay a price; fibromyalgia will bring pins and needles to life in my left hip and maybe keep me awake tonight. For one day a year, I don't care.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Everyday Jet Lag

Some people are larks. Others are owls. You cannot change which one you are.

If you are a night-owl like me, you can spend a lifetime forcing yourself to get up earlier than your body wants to. You will do that through your school years, and, for most of us, through your working life. Even in retirement, you might find a reason to get up early. In my case, two wonderful grandkids show up at our kitchen door before 7 a.m. every weekday. It’s worth getting up, but it’s never easy.

Theoretically, we can drop the kids at school and be back in bed by 9 a.m. But by then it has taken so much effort to be awake and talking that I can’t just pop back into bed. Lately, when I do go back for a nap, I’ll plan on sleeping for an hour but find myself waking up three hours later. On weekends I’ve been sleeping until 11:30 unless I set an alarm. I have blamed this in part on my own biological rhythms and in part on the fact that daylight hours are becoming shorter in our part of the world. I tried going to bed earlier than usual, but I lay awake longer than if I’d stayed up..

The New York Times Magazine of October 20, 2013, reports what I’ve known for years: Scientific research shows that each individual has a unique daily biological clock, or circadian rhythm, and it’s genetic. (I’ve known this because 30-some years ago I worked with a professor at the University of Minnesota whose job included promoting awareness of chronobiology research findings.).   

In the Times story, Till Roenneberg, a professor of chronobiology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and a leading expert in sleep studies, groups people into three “chronotypes,” designated as early, intermediate, and late. He and other researchers have found that late people—night owls, as my mother called me—suffer the most from having their schedules interrupted. And their schedules are interrupted often, because the world tends to favor early start times.

“If you are forced to wake up earlier than your body naturally would, you suffer from what Roenneberg calls ‘social jet lag,’” says the magazine. Various studies around the world have linked this “jet lag” to increased levels of weight gain, depression, and changes in white matter that may make the brains of night-owl types less efficient.

I pause a moment to let this sink in, for those of us whose brains have become less efficient.

The Times story reports that being a person of the night is not just a bad habit, as some might believe. It says in a study reported in the May issue of the journal Chronobiology, “researchers found that late chronotypes tended to have activity in genes that contribute to later sleep onset, offering further evidence that the urge to stay up late or to rise early is not a lifestyle choice but resides in our DNA.”

Roenneberg has a suggestion and an observation.

His advice to late chronotypes: Get outside more, because soaking up sunlight helps move most people, regardless of chronotype, toward an earlier sleep time.

In addition, he has found that Daylight Saving Time disrupts sleep for everyone, but especially for us late people. “Everybody sleeps better when it ends.”

I hope he is right. I am celebrating the turning back of the clocks (I wish they would just stay this way year-round).  I joined Peter to sit in the sunny (if chilly) garden for a bit this afternoon. The story didn’t mention it, but I suspect exercise helps, too, so I’ll be practicing my tap dance routines more often.  

I’m an owl in a world mostly scheduled for larks. You’d think by now I’d be used to it, but you’d be wrong!    

I found the lark-and-owl illustration on a blog by Mitch Hinz, where he wrote about his own efforts to sleep better. 


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