In Defence of Sleep

I am good at sleeping.

I rarely have insomnia, but when I do, I really suffer from the loss of my 8 hours. And I mean, tearfully, woefully suffer. Others around me suffer too.

The majority of the time, I strive to make those 8 or 9 hours happen. If I’m feeling unwell, I take to my bed for a solid 12-hour-marathon. I generally get up from these sleep-a-thons amazed at how restorative they’ve been. Well, duh.

Here’s a bit of info that might have escaped your attention: Sleep is good for you! It’s necessary for healing!

In most urban areas of the West, we view sleep-deprivation as a badge of honour. As though getting by on as little sleep as you can as is some sort of accomplishment for which we should be commended. There are countless industries and businesses which expect their employees to work their 40 hours and then some, and to still be “on call” in their off hours. Technology has not been our friend in preserving our sleep.

I am constantly astounded that doctors in hospitals are still expected to be alert and make sound decisions while on-call for 24-hour periods during residency. You would think that people with medical degrees would be very familiar with the essential nature of sleep. But this tradition is a cultural rite of passage, long-established and hard to eliminate.

This “sleep is for wimps” attitude that permeates the industrialized world is not doing us any favours. At no other point in history have people got less sleep than we do right now. We are all just so busy. We have work and deadlines and kids and social plans and endless hours of PVR’d TV to watch. We have gadgets that bong at us for attention day and night, and endless to-do lists that startle us awake at 3:00 am when we realize we forgot to respond to that timely email, and crap, that other errand just didn’t get done.

The question is, how can we get more sleep? Naps? I am a big fan of those. Unfortunately, for most of us above the age of 2, fitting an afternoon sleep in during a busy work-week is just completely impossible. And yet, there are times that getting a 30-minute sleep would be incredibly beneficial, as when we are caught doing the nod-and-jerk during that long and incredibly boring meeting, or find ourselves guzzling vast amounts of coffee to simply stay awake.

The National Sleep Foundation has this to say on the topic of naps:

More than 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning that they sleep for short periods throughout the day. Humans are part of the minority of monophasic sleepers, meaning that our days are divided into two distinct periods, one for sleep and one for wakefulness. It is not clear that this is the natural sleep pattern of humans. Young children and elderly persons nap, for example, and napping is a very important aspect of many cultures.

We tend to safeguard the sleep of our children. Every parent knows the special hell of dealing with a nap-deprived child. Non-parents are not aware of the non-negotiable nature of the nap. I remember thinking, in pre-kid days, that friends were being nit-picky about refusing to meet up during “nap time.” Couldn’t your kid just… miss a day? The answer, obviously, is no. No, he can’t. Ever. Unless you want to pay dearly for your mistake.

This morning my son didn’t wake up on time for school. He’s been ill lately, so I let him sleep until he woke up. There will be times in his life when he will have to be woken up, times when he can’t miss that test or that job interview. But for now, in kindergarten, I think it’s okay to allow a lie-in every now and again.

So why not allow yourself a little snooze of a weekend? Try turning off the telly and heading to bed an hour earlier. Protect your own sleep as you would the sleep of your child.

Your body will thank you for it.

(For an interesting read on sleep-deprivation click here.)

(Photo credit: Jessica Shyba)

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