“Get eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.” Betty White
“The morning is wiser than the evening.” Chinese proverb
“There was a nap laying on the bed, so I took it.” Mom
“Sleep on it.” Anonymous
My affinity for sleep is a running joke in my family and among our circle of friends.
Gail gave me a t-shirt that reads: Sleep is the new sex.
My sister-in-law gave me a nightshirt that reads: I ♥ my bed.
Many of our evening guests have seen me in my pajamas. I hold out as long as I can, say goodnight, and make sure they understand that just because I am going to bed, doesn’t mean they have to leave.
So they don’t, and my husband becomes the sole host for the rest of the night. I did manage to keep my eyes open to ring in the New Year a few years ago, and our friends took pictures by the clock to document it. Neither of us could find the picture, but just imagine me standing next to a clock just after midnight. It is a rare sight.
Gail, Suzanne and I are as different in our sleep styles as night and day—no pun.
*Gail, who was the owner and sole proprietor of a Daylight Donut shop in her small western Kansas town for over seven years, feels sleep is overrated, and you’ll get plenty of it when you are dead. She didn’t get much of it during those years, and she doesn’t appear to be any worse for the wear. She does sleep more now, and she sleeps when normal people sleep, instead of from about 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. It didn’t take her long to adjust her sleep patterns to sleeping at night. But a short night of sleep doesn’t seem to affect her at all now. I think fatigue is scared of her–and it should be.
*Suzanne, who is missing her thyroid, struggles to sleep restfully. This gland controls not only metabolism but regulates sleep as well, and while she never complains, craves sleep because she never feels rested. She is able to sleep all night some nights, but doesn’t wake feeling rested—ever.
*Then, there’s me. Kathleen, the sleep queen. Kathleen, the expert sleeper. Kathleen, who fantasizes about, craves, adores, yearns for and worships sleep. I would consider selling my soul for a guaranteed lifetime of good night’s sleeps.
Since my kids have been sleeping all night for years now, I have been able to achieve that sleep nirvana, that state of pure bliss that results from a good night’s sleep—most nights. Some nights not so much, and recently, as a now 52 year-old woman, not very much at all. If you are female, and have visited this foreign country my body now inhabits, that’s all I have to say. If you are male, or have not yet taken this trip—or glided through it smoothly, then disregard the last statement.
When I wake too early, or don’t get that high of waking up refreshed and ready to tackle the day, I feel cheated. I try to fall back asleep, or perhaps catch a quick early morning nap. I do whatever I can. But I don’t dare complain to Gail or Suzanne. Gail, with just a look, delivers the “get over it” message, and a quick stare from Suzanne reminds me I have nothing to complain about.
Because I am an avid reader—and also a trivia nerd, I am known to be full of information. Some useful, most of it useless. I recently read a great book and a few great articles about sleep, and I would like to impart this highly useful and relevant information to you regarding this universal activity, this human need:
*Sleep deprivation is used as a torture method. If you ever want to torture me, this would likely be the best way to do so.
*The “hunger hormone” known as ghrelin is produced more abundantly in the absence of restful sleep.
*The reasoning part of the brain is not functioning well in the wee hours, which explains why, for many people, irrational thoughts and magnified fears can rule when one is awake in the middle of the night. The demons lurk and the monsters are alive and well under—and perhaps all around your bed, but only really in your head. At 3 a.m., my brains seems to say “Oh, I see you are trying to sleep. Let me offer you a running commentary of all the things I want you to worry needlessly about:”
Youforgottoshutoffthelavalampthekitchenwillprobablybeonfireyoudidn’tgetthefinancialaid paperworkdonetherewontbeanythingleftforcollegemoneyforyourkidsthatmolehaschanged sinceyourlastdermatologistvisityoudidn’tsignthatreportitwontgotothedoctorandyourpatient willprobablydie.
Mercifully, after falling back asleep, and waking up after restful sleep, I always discover all is well: the kitchen didn’t burn, there is college money for my kids, the mole looks the same, and I did remember to sign the report. And I feel strong. With a good night’s sleep, I can slay dragons, both real and imagined.
As the Chinese proverb states, the morning is truly wiser. It is more rational and less emotional. Decisions are best made when the mind is not clouded by emotion, most likely in the morning after a good night’s sleep. And emotions are best expressed in the evening, which is likely why most dates and other social activities take place in the evening. Which is also why the advice to sleep on it is good advice for decision-making.
*Much like the office after hours, the brain shuts down the non-essential operations and allows the cleaning crew to come in and do their job. The brain, during restful and prolonged sleep at night, allows passage for its self-cleaning crew to come in, tidy up and take out the trash. Without it, filth accumulates, leading to poor health and eventually disease. Just like the office, if you don’t shut down the non-essential operations nightly, it can’t ever really be cleaned.
*Bed bugs are really real, and they really do bite. Much of my work is in a home health setting, and I have been exposed to this threat more than I care to mention. The most memorable patient was a gentleman, who, when he experienced the strange bug bites on his foot, scratched them so hard they became severely infected. His foot had to be amputated. The bugs were later determined to be bed bugs.
Good, solid, restful sleep is a gift denied to many, for many reasons. Suzanne’s absent thyroid. Chronic pain. Severe anxiety. Medications. Head injuries. Babies who don’t sleep. Teenagers who stay out late. (I’m there.) My heart breaks for Suzanne, and anyone else whose cards are stacked against them even before they shut their eyes. I urge anyone who struggles with these, and many other sleep thieves to fight the battle with every tool in the shed.
Our society’s view on sleep doesn’t promote adequate, quality sleep. Our affinity for electronic devices at all hours disrupts the natural light/dark rhythms, and the artificial light from any device—a television, a computer, your cell phone—is the worst disruptor of the natural shutdown in your brain.
Even before the devices became commonplace, the attitude that sleep is not cool or macho was prevalent—and still is. I’d rather be the biggest nerdball square who loves sleep more than any device or esteem from others.
Since I’m already on my soapbox preaching what I try to practice, let me share with you some valuable insights I have gained from my patients who appear to defy age, poor health and general decrepitude: As stated in The Sister’s Guide to Aging (March 18th), the advice many of my patients have given was to keep moving, slow down and do what you enjoy. I have yet to meet anyone who told me sleep didn’t matter.
And then there’s naps. Ahh, the glorious nap. I have a healthy habit of taking a nap after lunch on the weekends. I fight the urge to take one during the week at work as well. I just read that the human body’s energy typically ebbs around 2 p.m, which is prime nap-time for me. A good nap—not more than an hour—is rejuvenating, recharging and resets me for the rest of the day.
If there is a nap laying on your bed, by all means, take it. Our mom would be so proud of you. Plus, the more naps you take, the more awakenings you have.
Dad was always an expert napper as well.
“Two things are infinite: the universe, and naps; and I’m not sure about the universe.” Albert Einstein
In my work with stroke patients, the most frequent complaint I hear is this: “I am so tired.” In my experience and professional reading as well, it is clear that in order to heal and recover from a stroke—and likely any other physical ailment, sleep is crucial, essential and non-negotiable. I always prescribe naps as part of my therapy.
I do my best to stay up later when I am away from home and there is fun to be had, such as when Gail, Suzanne and I travel. As hard as I try, however, I usually go down before they do.
On a recent trip to Colorado, this was the scene around 10 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, which, of course, is 11 p.m. for my Central Standard Time internal clock:
Gail is winding up for the evening.
Suzanne is winding down.
Obviously, I am wound down already.
I did manage to stay up until around 1:00 a.m. on our Florida trip several years ago, but without pictures to document, you will have to take my word. Gail and Suzanne will attest. Given the time difference, however, it was only midnight on my internal clock…
It wasn’t past midnight, but clearly I stayed awake long enough to take in some night life with Suzanne in the revolving club at the top of our hotel in Florida last summer.
Of course, the best thing about a good night’s sleep is the feeling of being rested, refreshed, full of energy and ready to face the world. With or without that feeling, I wake to the one sure thing that never lets me down, the thing I start fantasizing about even before I lay me down to sleep: coffee. Strong, black coffee.
Gail and I partake daily, religiously even, without fail, just as our parents did. Suzanne, however, is not a coffee drinker. And because we accept each other as we are, she remains one of us. But at least once on our trips, we try to sway her to the other side. We haven’t given up hope yet.
Good night, and don’t let those bedbugs bite.
Thank you for the birthday wishes. I had a fabulous day, and I hope you do too on your next birthday.