Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sleep is Not for Wusses

I have always been an exceptionally sleepy person. I'm told that I developed a strict nap schedule at a very young age; my biggest issue with going to kindergarten (aside from being painfully shy) was having to give up my morning nap. I could- and still can- find a way to sleep anywhere, particularly moving vehicles. While I've been forced to give up naps at this point in my life I still average about 9-10 hours of sleep at night. I simply don't function well throughout the day on the prescribed 8 hours, and anything less turns me into a complete zombie. When I happen to share this with people the general reaction is disbelief and something that seems a lot like scorn over the fact that I'm wasting so much valuable time indulging in sleep. I've always been frustrated by society's views on sleep, a constant competition to see who can survive on as little as possible. When did it become the norm for us to deprive ourselves of something so essential to our well being? And why is nobody doing anything to stop it? In a recent read I came across a quote that really resonated with me:

"Sleep is a biological imperative for every species on earth. But humans alone try to resist its pull. Instead, we see sleep not as a physical need but a statement of character. It's considered a sign of weakness to admit fatigue- and it's a sign of strength to refuse to succumb to slumber. Sleep is for Wusses."*

After reading this I decided to stop being ashamed of the amount of sleep I get each night. True, I'll probably never hold a job that requires me to work more than 40 hours a week, and I'll probably be a total wreck when we have kids that wake up in the middle of the night, but I'd rather be the best that I can be on the seemingly excessive amount of sleep that I require than spread myself too thin and be absolutely miserable.

If you're a person who is skeptical of the value of a good night's sleep, consider this: memories are synthesized in our brains while we sleep. Any learning that we do over the course of the day becomes cemented over night. If you're not sleeping enough you are jeopardizing your ability to recall information! With regards to the way that memories get processed in the brain while we sleep, "negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories get processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep- deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine."**

Furthermore, in a study that involved shortening the amount of sleep in a group of adults to six hours per night for two weeks, tests showed them to be "just as impaired as someone who has stayed awake for 24 hours straight."***


Why aren't we listening to all the doctors and scientists who recommend that we sleep more?

At the risk of over-simplifying the issue, I think a lot of the world's problems could be solved if we all  stop what we're doing and take a big nap. Otherwise we're just a bunch of grumpy, forgetful, and dysfunctional people.

With that, I'm off to bed.

*Taken from  Nurture Shock, page 44. I haven't read this all the way through, but it's incredibly interesting and entertaining. If you liked Freakonomics then this is right up your alley.

**Nurture Shock, page 35.  ***page 44.

Concerned English major that I am, here's the full citation:

Bronson, Po, and Ashley Merryman. Nurture Shock. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.

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