Friday, April 23, 2010

To sleep or not to sleep

With a husband who works nights and with my increasing need for naps (again), I've been thinking a lot about sleep lately.  Are we getting enough sleep?  How much is enough?  Why can I sleep for 9-10 hours a night and still be unable to keep my eyes open in the afternoon?  Should I feel guilty about "sleeping in" nearly every day even though my body obviously needs it?  Why do I feel more righteous when I drag myself out of bed earlier than necessary in order to run around and get more things done?  Why is our crabbiness almost always associated with how tired we are?  When are we ever going to be on the same sleeping schedule again?  Why do none of these things seem to bother Steve?  (The last one isn't really a concern.  Sometimes I wish that I had his ability to just let things go, though.)

I found it ironic that a featured article in this month's National Geographic Magazine focused on sleep.  Not only did it detail the physical function of sleeping, but it also noted how much sleep affects how we live.  It is obvious that people who are entirely unable to sleep will eventually die.  However, the article also noted the dangerous effects of pushing one's already fatigued body...and this is something that is a regular occurrence for millions of people (anyone who has spent whole semesters on less than 5 hours of sleep a night can relate).
We sleep on average about an hour and a half less a night than we did just a century ago. Some of our epidemic of insomnia or sleeplessness is probably just our refusal to pay attention to our biology.  The natural sleep rhythms of teenagers would call for a late morning wake-up - but there they are, starting high school at 8 a.m.  The night shift worker sleeping in the morning is fighting ancient rhythms in his or her body that order him or her awake to hunt or forage when the sky is flooded with light.  Yet he or she has no choice.
 We fight these forces at our peril.  In February 2009 a commuter jet en route from Newark to Buffalo crashed, killing all 49 aboard and one on the ground.  The copilot, and probably the pilot, had only sporadic amounts of sleep the day leading up to the crash, leading the National Transportation Safety Board to conclude that their performance "was likely impaired because of fatigue."  This sort of news enrages Harvard's Charles Czeisler.  He notes that going without sleep for 24 hours or getting only five hours of sleep a night for a week is the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent.  Yet modern business ethic celebrates such feats.  "We would never say, 'This person is a great worker! He's drunk all the time!'" Czeisler wrote in a 2006 Harvard Business Review article.
 The article goes on to say that a study of first-year medical students working 30 hour shifts twice a week resulted in one out of five admitting to a fatigue-related mistake that caused harm to a patient, while one out of twenty admitted to a fatigue-related mistake that caused the death of a patient.  Scary.

Sleep is important.  I know that since my body is busy growing another little person that I will need more sleep than normal.  I don't think my life is going to fall apart if a sleep a few more hours and actually feel able to go about my responsibilities instead of living in a perpetual fog.  And I know that I will be less crabby if I'm well-rested.  Who wants to be around a crabby Amelia?  Not me.  I don't want to be a sluggard and just keep on sleeping from laziness if I really am feeling well-rested, but I do think that I need to put aside some of  the deeply ingrained expectations of "early-to-rise-makes-a-better-Christian-girl" and just take care of what my body really needs.

(At the same time, I really want to go jump on my husband who has been sleeping for 12 hours.  Tee-hee.)


Lisa said...

I read part of that article yesterday and thought it was very, very interesting.

tori said...

I too read this article yesterday in National Geographic while working out at the gym! Fascinating!

Melinda said...

Great thoughts, Amelia! I had just commented to G the other day how I thought maybe I should be setting an alarm for earlier in the morning than when I naturally wake up these days (which is not early) just so I can be more productive. But he said I'm being productive by growing a baby, and that's what's important. He also said that if I'm feeling alert and rested during the day (which I generally am), then I need to keep doing what I'm doing. Wise words! I too struggle feeling like a lazy bum, though, but I need to stop thinking that.

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