I’m feeling a bit loopy today, my first day back home from New Brunswick. Probably because I slept for almost twelve hours last night. Combined with the two-hour nap I had when we first arrived home from the airport, that makes for a whole lot of sleep in the past 24 hours. All that shut-eye was the result of my body not being happy with a virtually sleepless night, followed by a second night with three hours sleep since I had to leave for the airport before dawn to catch my early morning flight home.
Yes, I know, compared to the sleep schedule of some of you, that’s nothing. I know. Busy people are sleep deprived. I know. It’s just accepted as a part of our modern 24/7 world. People have work, and worries, and sometimes physical pain, and way too many episodes of whatever on Netflix to keep them awake. Not to mention those of you who are parents of small children; you deserve a category of sleep deprivation all your own.
I understand that many, many people have trouble getting enough sleep. Much more trouble than I have. It’s just that I’ve never operated well on too little sleep. Even when I was young and supposedly invincible, and cramming for exams, or pulling an all-nighter to finish a university paper, or simply staying out on the town until all hours. Or later when worries about work, reliving a stressful day, or going over and over a confrontation with a student or a parent kept me awake to the wee hours, a sleep deprived night was almost always followed by an early-to-bed night and, when possible, a late-to-rise morning. I have always been unable to function on too little sleep. I’m not sure what kind of a disastrous mother I would have made, considering the impact of parenthood on parental sleep schedules. Or how I would have been able to manage a teaching career with small children at home. Probably not well.
|Hubby and Doc having a well-deserved afternoon nap. 1986|
We all know the effects that sleep deprivation can have on us. Without sleep our immune system becomes depressed, and we are more susceptible to colds and flu. With too little sleep our body has less chance of fighting off disease, and is less able to help us get well again. When we are sleep deprived we are more at risk of developing any number of health issues like cardiovascular disease. Harvard Medical School says that “one night without adequate sleep can elevate one’s blood pressure” for the entire next day. Sleep is the time when our body repairs damage caused by our daily activities, and our brain rests. And too little of it affects our motor skills, our emotions, memory, mood, decision making, and impulse control.
Sleep and the lack of it has been linked to weight gain and obesity. This article on the Harvard Medical School website explains why. Apparently sleep deprivation causes elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. As well, it lowers the level of leptin, a hormone which tells our brain we’ve had enough to eat, and raises levels of a biochemical called ghrelin which is an appetite stimulant. According to the article, this leaves us craving more food when we’ve actually had enough, and “feeling too tired to burn off extra calories with exercise.” And on top of that, sleep deprivation leads to increased levels of insulin, promoting fat storage, and making us more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact the article on the Harvard website concludes that getting fewer than five hours of sleep per night can increase our “mortality risk from all causes by about 15%.”
Gad. So why, oh why, when we know all this, or should know all this, do we still not get enough sleep?
|Definitely not sleepless in Lima.|
One thing that the Harvard Medical School article mentions is that despite all the studies, and all the information that is available about the importance of sufficient sleep, many people who have sleep difficulties never mention this fact to their doctors. And, even more worrying, many doctors never ask.
Is this because so many of us just accept that lack of sleep is a normal part of adult life? Aside from those of us who can’t get enough sleep due to illness, anxiety, or crying babies, factors we often can’t control… do the rest of us still see sleeplessness as something that proves we are busy, busy people. And that living the dream, getting ahead, climbing the corporate ladder necessarily involves being sleep deprived? Do we still connect too little sleep with success? Seriously?
Media mogul Arianna Huffington seems to think so. I heard her interviewed a few months ago about her book The Sleep Revolution, and then yesterday I listened to this Ted Talk where she says that getting enough sleep is the way to get ahead. I’m not sure I agree with everything she espouses, especially when she seems to link the idea of “sleep deprivation one-upmanship” with gender, implying that it’s mostly men who brag about how little they sleep. But since she is speaking at a women’s conference I guess she felt she had to spin her idea that way. Still she has a good point about how society seems to value those who deprive themselves of sleep. And paint those of us who go to bed early, or rise later, as lacking initiative, drive, or ambition. We all know what happens to Macbeth when he lets ambition take over his life, right? He doesn’t sleep, can’t sleep, in fact. Shakespeare knew a thing or two about life when he wrote in Act II, Scene II of Macbeth that sleep “knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care.” And poor Macbeth, with his fear, guilt, and lack of sleep, becomes unravelled that’s for sure.
I had plenty of ambition and initiative when I worked. I worked hard. Four nights a week I’d be at my desk marking for a couple of hours, and one day on the weekend would find me reading, researching and prepping for my classes. I was at school from 8:30 until 5:30 most days. Except those when I had 7:30 AM meetings, or after school parent-teacher interviews. I put in at least 50 hours a week during term time. But I never marked past 9:00 in the evening, making sure I had at least an hour to spend with Hubby before bed. And I had to be in bed by ten if I wanted to be up by 6:00 to make those 7:30 meetings. I usually slept late on Saturdays and Sundays. So… no 80 hour work weeks for me. No marking until midnight, except during exams when papers needed to be graded and final marks calculated in a very short turn around time. I worked hard, but I knew my limits. And then I retired.
I vowed that when I retired I would wake when my body said I should. These days, six in the morning is my favourite time. The time when, out of habit, I wake up, glance at the clock, sigh, and roll over, until 8:30. I love it when I realize I don’t have to get up. I’ll never understand how society sees early risers as more virtuous than us non-early morning people. And I wonder if that attitude is not the same attitude that has people thinking that sleep deprivation is a competitive sport.
Funnily enough part of Huffington’s new ethos is that people who get enough sleep are more productive, and make better leaders because, being well rested and on their game, they make better decisions. And more importantly, to me anyway, getting enough sleep is the key to staying well. And being able to have the kind of retirement I want. Not a busy, busy, I’m so busy, kind of retirement. But one where I’m as busy as I want to be. Doing things I love like blogging, and reading. Staying active, making fitness a priority, and finding time, and being fit enough and well enough, for those things that improve our quality of life and for which we’d planned, like travel.
But it’s not all smooth sailing sleep-wise in retirement. As we age getting enough sleep can present new challenges. The National Sleep Foundation website says the idea that we need less sleep as we age is a misconception. We still need the same quantity of sleep as we did when we were younger. But aging means our circadian rhythms are changing, and we may find it harder to fall asleep and harder to stay asleep. As we age we may need to adopt new habits, or techniques, to enable us to get sufficient sleep. And that includes, in my opinion, not just shrugging off sleep deprivation as a necessary part of a modern, busy life.
|After four very early mornings even the beautiful Peruvian countryside could not keep me awake|
Ah well… that’s easy for me to say, eh? The odd night of worry or anxiety aside, as an adult, I’ve never really had many problems falling asleep. I can fall asleep most anywhere. In cars or canoes. On buses or planes… in pretty much any moving vehicle which I’m not driving… or paddling. When we head out for the long drive down east, Hubby says that sometimes he feels as if he’s driving all by himself. I can usually stay awake long enough to help him navigate through Montreal, two hours from here… but after that… my head lolls, my eyelids droop, and I’m down for the count. And, on our recent trip to South America, even the beautiful scenery in Peru couldn’t keep me awake after four very early mornings in a row.
Sigh. I guess I’m just a girl who can’t say no to sleep when I need it.
Most of the time, anyway.
So, how about you folks? Do you have a fraught relationship with sleep? How has sleep deprivation affected your life?