To sleep: a love letter

Dear Sleep:

I love you.

I can’t get enough of you.

Let’s ditch these yahoos and meet for a rendezvous.

Wendy

The perfect time to talk about sleep is when my young adult children (yahoos) and their friends (yahoos) are in the house. That’s when I crave it. They are in the phase where staying up most of the night is the cool thing to do. I spoke to them at 2:00 am. I was stern…not really, they make me laugh and want to chatter at that hour. I like them chatty. Their seven-year-old sister (and a yahoo herself) was awake at 4:00 am with a bad dream and then up at 7:15 am for good. It’s 9:00 am now and I’m still in denial that we had to get up.

My husband (also a yahoo) and I are just as much to blame. Allison usually goes to bed at eight and is asleep by 8:45 or so. Then, I have my time to really get things done  – dishes, plan tomorrow’s meals, pack lunch, straighten up, pay bills and if I’m lucky – maybe I get to read a few pages in the latest book I’m reading. Then, Rich will ask about watching a show on the DVR or a movie. Forget if there’s anything ELSE planned!

One time, when I was particularly sleep deprived I was telling Rich how I fantasize about getting a hotel room (he listens, curiosity piqued)…and I dash his hopes and dreams when I end with “just to sleep.” What a sad truth! That’s when I know I’ve really got to get a handle on this thing.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-8 hours of sleep per night for adults as our basal sleep need. The consequences if you don’t get that are startling:

Though scientists are still learning about the concept of basal sleep need, one thing sleep research certainly has shown is that sleeping too little can not only inhibit your productivity and ability to remember and consolidate information, but lack of sleep can also lead to serious health consequences and jeopardize your safety and the safety of individuals around you.

For example, short sleep duration is linked with:

  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • Increase in body mass index – a greater likelihood of obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation
  • Increased risk of diabetes and heart problems
  • Increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse
  • Decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information

According to researchers Michael H. Bonnet and Donna L. Arand, “There is strong evidence that sufficient shortening or disturbance of the sleep process compromises mood, performance and alertness and can result in injury or death. In this light, the most common-sense ‘do no injury’ medical advice would be to avoid sleep deprivation.”

When I don’t sleep at least seven hours, I find it difficult to navigate even the easiest of days. I’m a little grouchy. When problems arise, they seem bigger than they actually are. My body and brain are slouchy – begging for glucose for energy – so I fight them all day to stay within my calorie range. You have to be able to recognize when your body needs food and when your body just needs to lay down. It’s difficult because most of time you can’t just lay down.

If you do have insomnia, this site is a good resource: Harvard Sleep Center. Since I’ve been exercising daily, I haven’t had insomnia. As a precaution, I guess, I’ve still used the recommendations I’ve read for people who do. Our bedroom is already painted a serene green. I’ve removed pictures from my bedroom and replaced them with abstract art and candles. I try to control the clutter (which apparently causes anxiety) – dresser tops and floors should be clear. Bedside stands should be organized. I try to read a little before bed so that electronics have been off for 30 minutes or so.

The one thing that works wonders when I’m being really good about sleep hygiene (that’s really what it’s called!) is The List. I don’t do everything I feel like I need to before I go to bed, but I make a list of all those things. This gets them out of my head, so I can rest, and my brain and I are lulled by the false promise that it will all be done tomorrow. Shhh…what we don’t know won’t hurt us. Let us sleep.

sleep

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