Saturday, March 26, 2011

In hope of sleep

I haven't slept in a sleeping bag in a long time mostly because when my feet get too hot, I can't sleep and in a sleeping bag I can't get my feet out. Sleeping outside in a hammock or in a swing with a loose blanket on is pretty sweet. Sleeping on the beach burrowed down in a shallow sand pit below the wind with the warm sun and ocean sounds lapping at the shore is marvelous too. Yesterday I watched my aunt dozing off in the sun on a park bench, I was envious.

I often remake beds when visiting places. I like to be able to stick my feet out of the covers at night. Hotels and others tuck the bed sheets tightly down the sides which is difficult to undo once in the bed. I also like to pull the sheets up to my "chinny chin chin" so I have to pull the sheets up as most of the time they only come to my chest. This may be due to liking to read in bed propped up on pillows so the covers have to come up higher. My husband thinks all of this is funny as I am not particular about many things, but I am very particular about my bed even when traveling. A good night of sleep is invaluable for a good time. As a kid, I always seemed to need more sleep than anyone in my family; I always slept late. Now that luxury hasn't been mine since the munsters arrived seven years ago. I have a constant longing for deep, delicious sleep like I used to get. There is always some variable the prevents it from happening- a nightmare, a pee accident, a random phone call, I just wake up, etc.

As a nurse I worked a lot of night shifts which resulted in me sleeping all the time when I wasn't at work. It wasn't a good fit. I read a lot of sleep research articles in search of the holy grail of good sleep. Ultimately, working day shift was the most significant change I made, but it took a few years before I was able to do it. I also try to follow some of the sleep hygiene suggestions except the one about not reading in bed. I keep the room cool, dark, and quiet. I try to get to bed about the same time. I try to avoid naps which decrease my ability to fall asleep at night.

The gist of some of the sleep research is that people locked into a room with no outside light over time find similar rhythms- fall asleep about 8:00 p.m. and get up in the middle of the night and then go back to sleep, but overall, they begin sleeping a whole lot more hours and begin to find they get a lot more useful. I keep hoping to engineer my life more in this direction. The thrill they find in how awesome they feel with all that sleep encourages me.

An interesting sleep factoid I found on the internet reports, "the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, the Challenger space shuttle disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident have all been attributed to human errors in which sleep-deprivation played a role." A lot of road accidents are also related to this. "Seventeen hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%," is also mentioned. I guess that is why traveling with kids is challenging- parental sleep deprivation combined with less operational effectiveness. Also noted, "diaries from the pre-electric-light-globe Victorian era show adults slept nine to 10 hours a night with periods of rest changing with the seasons in line with sunrise and sunsets." Maybe chucking the lights will be helpful toward this end- we never fully appreciate what we give up when we chuck the old for the new.

My jet lag is gone, but the weariness of my body not quite belonging to this time zone or any other lurks. Just in time, I should return to my home time zone and begin again. Rest, and the world is a better place.

This is the transcript of the TED talk by Jessa Gamble that was lurking in the back of my mind. Above is her forthcoming book if you are as interested in sleep as I am.

Let's start with day and night. Life evolved under conditions of light and darkness, light and then darkness. And so plants and animals developed their own internal clocks so that they would be ready for these changes in light. These are chemical clocks, and they're found in every known being that has two or more cells and in some that only have one cell.
I'll give you an example. If you take a horseshoe crab off the beach, and you fly it all the way across the continent, and you drop it into a sloped cage, it will scramble up the floor of the cage as the tide is rising on its home shores, and it'll skitter down again right as the water is receding thousands of miles away. It'll do this for weeks, until it kind of gradually loses the plot. And it's incredible to watch,but there's nothing psychic or paranormal going on;it's simply that these crabs have internal cycles that correspond, usually, with what's going on around it.
So, we have this ability as well. And in humans, we call it the body clock. You can see this most clearly when you take away someone's watch and you shut them into a bunker, deep underground, for a couple of months. People actually volunteer for this,and they usually come out kind of raving about their productive time in the hole. So, no matter how atypical these subjects would have to be, they all show the same thing. They get up just a little bit later every day -- say 15 minutes or so -- and they kind of drift all the way around the clock like thisover the course of the weeks. And so, in this way, we know that they are working on their own internal clocks, rather than somehow sensing the day outside.
So fine, we have a body clock, and it turns out that it's incredibly important in our lives. It's a huge driver for culture, and I think that it's the most underrated force on our behavior. We evolved as a species near the equator, and so we're very well-equipped to deal with 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. But of course, we've spread to every corner of the globe, and in Arctic Canada, where I live, we have perpetual daylight in summerand 24 hours of darkness in winter. So the culture, the northern aboriginal culture, traditionally has been highly seasonal. In winter, there's a lot of sleeping going on. You enjoy your family life inside.And in summer, it's almost manic hunting and working activity very long hours, very active.
So, what would our natural rhythm look like? What would our sleeping patterns be in the sort of ideal sense? Well, it turns out that, when people are living without any sort of artificial light at all, they sleep twice every night. They go to bed around 8:00 pm. until midnight and then again, they sleepfrom about 2:00 am until sunrise. And in-between, they have a couple of hours of sort of meditative quiet in bed. And during this time, there's a surge of prolactin, the likes of which a modern day never sees. The people in these studies report feeling so awake during the daytime, that they realize they're experiencing true wakefulness for the first time in their lives.
So, cut to the modern day. We're living in a culture of jet lag, global travel, 24-hour business, shift work. And, you know, our modern ways of doing things have their advantages, but I believe we should understand the costs.
Thank you.