Anesthesia and Sleep!

If you have had surgery recently, you know the effects of flushing this stuff out of your body for a few days afterward. I don’t think that the anesthesiologist does a proper job of explaining what is going to happen in your brain over the next few days. He talks about the potential physical effects, maybe some nausea, drowsiness, or sleeplessness, but he does not tell you that your brain may function differently and will be weird for a few days.

Anesthesia puts you to sleep, but this is not normal sleep. This is a chemical sleep that bathes the cells in your brain in such a way that they are pickled in something new and different. After surgery, this “pickling juice” must be washed out of your brain. No one prepares you for this transition. The IV in your arm is part of this flushing mechanism. Drinking lots of water is an important part of this flushing system, and that plastic breathing thing that you struggle to suck out of is a part of this too.

The interesting part for my brain was the exposure to the system that my brain uses to store information. I did not do much sleeping after surgery. Again, a part of the information you should know is that sleep changes with these chemicals trying to run out of your brain. But when I did close my eyes the show was really weird. I know that I store information in pictures. That has always been my preferred processing format. Ask me if I know someone and their picture pops into my brain. When I try to communicate that I know someone, I see them but cannot find their name. If you could watch this on a screen, you would know immediately who I am talking about. So, with these chemicals activating my brain, the photos of others were wild. I went through a movie screen role of 38mm film of every person I have ever encountered. Trying to sleep, and the pictures just kept rolling. Saw my 3rd-grade teacher and remember that she raised a hen in a cage in the middle of the room all year: “Biddy Hen” but have no idea of the teacher’s name but a great pic.

When I taught college, I made a very strong effort to learn a student’s name on day one. I went around the room and asked everyone to say their name and tell one important or unusual thing about themselves. I could picture them and use the detail to grab their first name. I required them to stay in the same seat all semester. Rolls and rolls of those students went through my head.

Trust me. I am going someplace. I have a sleep system that I have used for decades to quickly and easily put myself to sleep, but it is based on music and not on pictures.

We encode data in 3 main ways: images, sounds, and motion. The first two are easy to understand. The third is something like this: you move through space, and let’s say you are walking someplace, and your brain records the action, or you are learning to swing a bat, and your brain has to focus on the motion and nothing else to make you a good batter.

We each have preferences for the storage of information. As I have said, mine is picture storage. Did you know that emails can be stored as images? Recovering from anesthesia, I close my eyes, and a white circle appears filled with fast-moving images of emails. Come on! Who knew?

My storage systems are first pictures, then motion, and the last is sound. So, of course, the best sleep process for me is the weakest system. If I focus on sound, then the other two busy systems get lulled to sleep. The anesthesia completely blocked my access to the sound system. When that path was opened again, I could drift off to sleep.

Lullabies that my mother sang to me as a child, that I sang to my child, and that she sang to hers. Lovely to know what works. Try figuring out how your brain encodes things and pick the weaker one to start a sleep routine.