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58. Sleep

It’s fascinating that, on average, we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and we don’t really know exactly what sleep is or what it does for us.  We do know we have to have it to live.  Something essential happens in sleep, and we die if we go long enough without it.  Our performance suffers if we don’t get it.  We feel bad and get sick if we don’t get enough of it.[1] 

 

Problems associated with not enough sleep include:  both short- and long-term memory impairment; less concentration, creativity and problem-solving skills; being moody, emotional, short-tempered, anxious or depressed; impaired balance and coordination and increased accident and injury risks; weakened immunity and increased risks for illness, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease; impaired brain signaling around being full, leading to weight gain; and lower sex drive. 

If sleep deprivation continues long enough, we start hallucinating.  Sleep deprivation is associated with impulsive behavior, depression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts.  It leads to microsleep in the day, episodes of falling asleep for a few seconds or minutes without realizing it or being able to control it, which can be very dangerous if you’re driving or walking.[2]  Whatever it is, sleep is obviously important.

Yet, a third of us are sleep deprived.[3] [4] Some of us even brag about only sleeping a few hours a night, when most of us seem to need 8 hours, like that makes us better somehow.  We set alarms to wake us before we’re ready, and then hate it when they do.  We force ourselves to get up and rally for the day.  We fight tiredness during the day.  We call on willpower to continue.  We persevere by ignoring our bodies telling us we need more sleep.  We drink coffee the way chain-smokers consume cigarettes.

In sleep, our brains tune to different energy frequencies; brainwaves cycle through at least 5 patterns.[5]  We can measure it.  We don’t know what it means exactly, or why, but something extremely important happens when we do.  We dream.  We process and integrate experiences, solve problems, and restore and rejuvenate our bodies and minds.  We heal.  We incorporate, assimilate into our bodies.  We log into the universal supercomputer and do system updates and backups.  We lose consciousness and allow unconsciousness to drive the bus.  We reboot systems, so we operate well again.  We reinvigorate. 

We all know the experience of hitting a wall in trying to solve a difficult problem or get something done.  We also know the wisdom of “stop, go home and sleep on it”.  It works.  We solve problems that way.

We know personally from experience:  the body heals itself in sleep, seemingly miraculously sometimes.  Why then do we not allow patients in hospitals to sleep?  Instead, we wake them up frequently, to take their vital signs and putter with them, as if we intentionally don’t want them to heal. 

We know sleep is essential and important to each of us, from personal experience.  Why then do we cheat ourselves of sleep?  Without sleep, our immune systems are weak; we’re weak; we perform and feel worse; we’re more vulnerable; we enjoy life less; we look worse; we don’t think as well; we lag.

 

Sleep is essential and important.  Get enough good sleep!  Dream well!

 

[1] “10 things to know about sleep as the clocks go back”, Rachel Schraer, Joey D'Urso, October 28, 2017, BBC News, http://www.bbc.com/news/health-41666563

[2] “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body”, Written by Ann Pietrangelo and Stephanie Watson, Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA on June 5, 2017, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body#1

[3] “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem”, September 3, 2015, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/index.html

[4] “Nearly One-Third of Americans Sleep Fewer Than Six Hours Per Night: The survey reflects a worrying trend of national sleep deprivation, specifically among African-American and Hispanic respondents” Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, December 26, 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/almost-one-third-americans-sleep-fewer-six-hours-night-180971116/

[5] “Your 5 Brainwaves: Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma”, Lucid, June 16, 2016, https://lucid.me/blog/5-brainwaves-delta-theta-alpha-beta-gamma/

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