2012 Challenge #1: Sleep, The Magic Number
January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment
I must confess, I have a very serious problem, and I wish I could say that it began a little over two years ago when we had our bundle of joy, but that would be grossly misleading. Yes, parenthood has brought many sleepless, restless nights beginning around the eighth month of pregnancy. But in actuality my near misses with a decent sleep habit began earlier, around the time I started graduate school which in itself gave new meaning to the phrase “all-nighter.”
During my first year of grad school I was blessed with a one year fellowship that absolved me from TA or GSR responsibilities to help pay the bills, so instead of taking the typical two courses per quarter, I decided to maximize the time and take three courses each quarter. As I recall this was also back when I thought it was humanly possible to read everything. So you can imagine that finals period always rolled around and I wondered how I was going to write three 25+ page research papers in about a week’s time. Suffice to say by the end of my first quarter I was habituated to sleeplessness, restlessness, late night snacking and a bit of anxiety. This continued and in fact worsened over the next three years, as I prepared for my qualifying exams and oral defense. Then came the endless parade of fellowship applications, working, writing, trying to research and of course baby.
I got used to 4-6 hours of sleep and even marveled at how well I “functioned” on less. Then, like every semi-bad thing, bargain shopping, ice-cream, and late night t.v., it caught up with me. Today, I routinely find some way to stay up late, with some reasons being more legitimate than others (note the irony in the timing of this post). All the while this overgrown bad habit has taken its toll on my body. In a recent study of 20,000 people conducted in the UK, researchers found that people who struggled with sleep were six times more likely to develop heart disease and type two diabetes. I’m sure you’ve seen other studies and articles that say persistent sleep deprivation, or getting six or less hours of sleep per night can have negative effects on the body even after five days. Sometimes I can experience negative symptoms even after one night. Most recently after a 3 month teaching stint that sent my already stretched schedule into dangerous territory, I suffered fatigue, bloating, persistently red-itchy eyes, random aches and pain, occasional headaches, and weight gain which eventual lead to my 21 day detox at the end of last year. In short my chronic sleep deprivation was prematurely aging me on the inside and out.
The irony in that is that The Huffington Post ran a slide show listing the 11 Surprising health benefits of sleep, and among those were: improved memory, improved quality of life and longevity, curbed inflammation and spurred creativity and weight control. Also for those of us forever searching for the fountain of youth, sleep promotes cell turn-over and regeneration. This occurs more at night than during the day, so when we sleep our body naturally gets rid of old-dead skin cells and replaces them with new ones. As we get our beauty sleep our body cleans up the day-to-day wear so that we can awake and look refreshed. Thus, quality sleep is a good thing, but how much you get is equally important. I recently saw a study that said that too much sleep can also be dangerous for the body as it is linked to depression and other underlying health problems, prompting most researchers to recommend adults receive between 7-8 hours max of sleep per night.
So what’s the best medicine for this condition? In my non-medical opinion it’s to find the right number for you between 7 and 8. While this really only leaves two options, the good part is that one of them will be the magic number to help improve your overall productivity, health and concentration in the days that follow. So Prude followers, here it is our first 2012 challenge and it may be one of the most difficult we’ll have…go to sleep for 7-8 hours a night the next 21 days.
I know you had a long day and that show that comes on at 10pm usually unwinds you. I know you just put the kiddies to bed and have been looking forward to those one or two hours of solace. I know you took a cat nap and can go another four hours. I know you haven’t been getting decent-healthy sleep for the past five years, so why start now? Because this is 2012 and we don’t just want resolutions, we want revolutions so why not start one in the bedroom?