Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on April 23, 2008
I’ve been blessed with the ability to sleep. I can doze off just about anywhere, anytime. When I turn off the light at night, I’m usually asleep within a minute. Bored? I can close my eyes and catnap until the fun begins again. As a tiny tot, it was not uncommon for my parents to find me passed out on the couch or under the kitchen table, having found myself tired or simply unstimulated. (My dog does this, too.) This is very handy on airplanes, especially considering the fact that I’m a neurotic flyer. With the exception of waking up for lavatory breaks, I can sleep the entire 14-hour journey from L.A. to Australia, which sure makes the time pass quickly.
My problem is, I don’t always make the time. It seems there’s always work to be done or episodes of “American Justice” piling up on the DVR. And while some people seem to get by just fine with only a few hours a night, I tend to become non-functional and even zombie-like after a few consecutive days of less-than-seven-hours.
And then I found an article on sleep debt. The idea that missed sleep can build up is terrifying. I think of all those late nights cramming in college. Like college loans, can it ever be paid off? How important is sleep, anyway?
According to sleepdex.org, “sleep deprivation has become one for the most pervasive health problems facing the United States” with some experts believing it can “be recognized with the same seriousness that is associated with the impact of alcohol on society.” That’s pretty heavy. The article cites a 1997 study opining that those who get four to five hours a night require two full nights in order to “recover performance, alertness and normal mood”. It goes on to say that lack of sleep can affect your memory, cognitive abilities — even your immune system. And those are just the short term consequences.
Sleep deprivation has also been at least partly blamed for the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Three Mile Island tragedies, not to mention thousands of traffic accidents per year.
So, how do we know if we’re getting enough sleep? Experts say if you can wake up without an alarm clock or with one buzz (and no snoozing), you’re probably fine. Also if you can doze within five minutes of laying your head on the pillow.
For those with trouble falling asleep, SleepNet has the following tips: get on a regular sleep cycle. Many people’s bodies appreciate regularity (which is why jetlag can throw you for a loop). Also, avoid stimulants in the evening. Caffeine, chocolate or sugary treats can keep you alert when you don’t want to be. If you’re the type who reads in bed, a brighter than necessary light may inhibit drowsiness. Avoid going to bed hungry. While a heavy meal will pile on the pounds, a light, healthy snack may help ease you into slumber. Also, exercising raises adrenaline levels, so avoid that three hours before bedtime.
If you can’t sleep, says SleepNet, don’t stress. It will only make it worse. Get up and “do something boring” until you’re drowsy and then try again.
Also, keep in mind the effects of alcohol. Researchers believe that while a nightcap can make you feel relaxed or tired, it can prevent your body from actually relaxing as it’s working overtime to process the alcohol. Which is why you may wake up feeling tired and languid despite having “slept” eight hours after a raucous frat party. Your body didn’t get the rest it needed.
But everyone’s body is different. And the most important thing you can do is simply pay attention to yours and give it what it needs. If you can snooze four hours a night and feel energetic the next day, chances are you’re getting the sleep you need. However, if you know that staying up that extra hour is going to make you lethargic and unproductive the next day, turn off the TV and close your eyes.
You may never pay off those college loans, but hopefully you can stay well rested and avoid the consequences of sleep deprivation.