Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sleep: Getting enough zzzzzzz's?

I've been a night owl all my life.

As a flight attendant in my 20's and 30's, I used it to my benefit. When others bid for trips that left and returned home at a decent hour, if I worked under a moonlit sky, I'd snag a better schedule (with coveted or more days off) those senior to me didn't want to fly.

Assigned to the int'l division in JFK, I didn't bat an eyelash at working starry transatlantic flights filled with snoozing passengers. Flying over the pitch black Amazon to South American ports of call? A cinch.

As a domestic stew, my nocturnal nature paid off, too.

Based in Chicago, I spent years departing O'Hare at 10 p.m., jetting through the darkness to destinations up and down the West Coast. The payoff? A full 24-hour layover in cities I still love today: Seattle, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles.

With that long layover break, I had more time than the early-birders to sleep in and then explore, enjoy a leisurely meal and go for an outdoor run (a definite perk when the Midwest was buried under snow).

The red-eye back pulled into ORD about 6 or 6:30 in the morning.

Oddly, I didn't mind being up as the sun rose as long as an alarm clock wasn't involved! Walking through the terminal, I'd see the inbound Honolulu crew and passengers deplaning from their own all-night adventure in their colorful leis. Passing by even sleepier-looking coffee-clutching coworkers as they arrived for their "oh dark thirty" sign-ins made me giddier to be heading the opposite way.

Today, I'm mostly earthbound.

Yet I still struggle with trying to get to bed at a decent hour. Although my occupation's changed, I don't feel like I'm in my element at daybreak. As a researcher and writer, I most feel creative and productive when the house is quiet and still and the only one awake is me.

As long as I'm able to sleep in, I generally get my required 7 or 8 hours. But that's just not always the case. And when that happens, everything suffers: my smarts, my running pace, my attitude, my stress level.

So, this year, I've made winding down earlier a priority.

Oh, boy! I'd almost rather wrestle an alligator. It has been a slippery struggle for a night-timer like me. I still haven't had complete success pinning this desired new habit down. But, I know my body needs to get into the routine of getting its nightly rest and restoration fix so it can power me through bright, alert, strong and relaxed days.

For me, a true motivator for change is understanding the physical and psychological consequences of going without enough shuteye. A few recent news clips on the almighty zzzzzz's:

In educational interest, article(s) may be quoted from extensively.

More than a third of Americans regularly sleep less than seven hours a night, affecting their ability to concentrate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Short sleep duration was found among 35 percent of adults surveyed, and 48 percent reported snoring, an unhealthy behavior, according to a study in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report today. About 39 percent of respondents aged 25 to 54 reported sleeping less than 7 hours in a day.

The most common side effect of sleep-related difficulties was loss of concentration, followed by trouble remembering, another report found. Most adults need seven to nine hours of slumber to avoid higher likelihood of illness and death, the Washington-based National Sleep Foundation said.

Rheyanne Weaver, EmpowerHER:
National Sleep Awareness Week is held from March 7 to 13, 2011, and its purpose is to “promote the importance of sleep,” according to the National Sleep Foundation website. ...

Recent studies suggest how important sleep really is. People with sleep disorders know this too well. One study found that hypersomnia, “characterised by excessive tiredness during the day,” can have a negative impact on daily life for those who suffer from it. For example, they have more medical expenses and work problems (sometimes unemployment). It’s difficult to function normally when exhaustion leads to several naps a day.

Sleep deprivation and inadequate sleep is also linked to mental illness. Some studies suggest lack of sleep can be the cause of mental illness, and others suggest it’s a side effect or symptom of a mental disorder like depression. There is no question that the road to good mental health can be blocked without enough sleep.

For people who don’t necessarily have sleep disorders or mental disorders but just deprive themselves of sleep, there can also be negative side effects. For example, one study found that sleep deprivation can lead to a “higher risk of strokes and heart attacks.” Another study shows a link between inadequate sleep and colon cancer.

Not getting enough sleep during the night? Research shows there's real protective value in taking a break for a nap later in the day. PhsyOrg:
Long work schedules, shift work, increased anxiety and a greater use of the internet and television late at night - all characteristics of our modern society - have had an impact on nocturnal sleep. ... And this could be impacting our long-term health. For example, sleeping less has been linked to an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular problems generally.

Brindle and Conklin's experiment examined how daytime sleep might influence cardiovascular recovery after a mental stress test in the laboratory. They split 85 healthy university students into two groups: One group was allotted a 60-minute interval during the day when they had the opportunity to sleep; the other group did not sleep during the day. The researchers also asked the students to complete questionnaires assessing sleep quality and complete a cardiovascular reactivity task, involving a complex mental subtracting exercise. ...

They found that daytime sleep seemed to have a restorative effect with students in the sleep condition reporting lower scores of sleepiness than those who did not sleep. Although blood pressure and pulse rates rose in both groups between baseline and the stress phase, during the recovery phase, those who had napped had significantly lower average blood pressure readings than those who had not slept. These results show that sleeping between 45 and 60 minutes during the day appears to facilitate blood pressure recovery after a mental stress task in the laboratory.

Turns out, day or night, if you snooze you don't lose.

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