Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What I Do Best

Lois Greiman

I’d like to talk about one of my favorite activities, and something at which I myself am something of an expert. It’s sleeping.

That’s right. I am a national caliber sleeper. I can (and have) slept in horse stalls, in every moving vehicle I’ve ever entered, and during most physical activities. (Use your imagination if you must.) I can sleep while talking, while others are talking and during mastication. (No, you pervert, I said mastication.) In fact, my skill in the sleep arena is so stupendous some say it borders on narcolepsy. But I don’t care. I love to sleep.

I don’t mean to lord it over anyone, but I’ve got to tell you, if there was an Olympic sleeping event I would be a gold medallist. Well, okay, I may have to share the podium with my sister because when we used to have sleeping contests (that’s right, I said sleeping contests) she would sometimes win.

However, I’m told that 60 millions Americans have difficulties falling asleep and that’s sad because, there’s nothing better than sleep. In my own humble opinion, few things come close. For example, I can go 36 hours without chocolate if it’s absolutely necessary; I can’t say the same about sleep. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some facts I learned from the National Sleep Foundations’ website.

Here goes:

A majority of American adults (63%) do not get the recommended eight hours of sleep needed for good health, safety, and optimum performance. In fact, nearly one-third (31%) report sleeping less than seven hours each week night, though many adults say they try to sleep more on weekends.

Before Thomas Edison's invention of the light bulb, people slept an average of 10 hours a night; today Americans average 6.9 hours of sleep on weeknights and 7.5 hours per night on weekends.

Perhaps you can hear my heart breaking from where you sit, because, beyond the fact that sleep is totally awesome, lack of sleep can cause a host of problems. I’ll list of few of them below. (I’ll also add my own thoughts in italics, just because I find myself so danged amusing--and to keep myself awake.)

1. Lack of sleep makes you ravenous: According to a December 2004 University of Chicago study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, partial sleep deprivation alters your level of hunger hormones, making you not only hungrier all day, but seriously jonesing for calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate fare.

2. Lack of sleep makes it harder to exercise: When you wake up tired, it is increasingly more difficult to find the motivation and energy to exercise, which, as you progress through life, is mission critical in your ability to not only lose weight, but maintain weight loss. This sets up a vicious cycle of lack of energy that leads to lack of exercise that fosters a poorer sleep that leads to lack of energy. At some point, you need to just dive in and make an exercise intervention.
Oh come on--it’s always hard to exercise.

3. Lack of sleep dramatically increases your risk of obesity: Research by the University of Warwick linked sleep deprivation with an near doubling in the chance of becoming obese. More recently, a 2007 University of Michigan study revealed a strong correlation between childhood obesity and lack of adequate sleep (9-hours). Every additional hour of sleep in 6th-grade decreased a child’s likely of being overweight by 20%, while every additional hour of sleep in 3rd-grade decreased the risk of being overweight in 6th-grade by a whopping 40%. A University of Texas at Houston study similarly showed the odds of obesity in adolescents increased 80-percent for each hour of lost sleep. And, things don’t get better any as we get older, more stressed, less active and sleep even less.
Well you gotta admit, when you’re sleeping, you’re probably not eating.

4. Lack of sleep make you less discerning: A 2007 study presented at the21st Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies revealed a serious drop in the ability of airport screeners to detect high-risk items. And, that problem worsened at the participated slept less.


5. Lack of sleep decreases cognitive function & memory: Much of what we learn during the day is processed and integrated while we sleep. So, when we disprupt our sleep, we mess with not only our ability to form memories, but to understand and utlize new information. This leads to poorer performance both at work and in school. Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University recently studied the effects of a slightly shortened sleep period in 4th and 6th graders. After three days getting just 30-minutes less sleep, the average 6th grader had the cognitive function of a 4th-grader. A second study from the University of Minnestoa revealed the Average A-student got 36-more minutes of sleep than the average D-student. Moved by this and other evidence, the high school in Edina, Minnesota pushed its start-time from 7:30am to 8:25am and saw a jump in SAT scores from the top 10% of students from 1288 to 1500. Yes, you read that right!

6. Lack of sleep makes you nasty.
I and everyone who has ever crossed my proverbial path can attest to this fact.

So how can we improve our sleeping habits?

Exercise: Exercising 3-6 hours before going to sleep increases your body temperature and there is some evidence to suggest that the gradual decrease in temperature that follows help lull you into sleep. A Stanford University School of Medicine study of 55 to 75 year old sedentary individuals who struggled with insomnia revealed that adding 20-30 minutes of exercise every other day cut the time needed to fall asleep in half and increased sleep time by nearly one hour. Plus, it’ll help discharge a lot of daytime stress and anxiety and we all know how important it is to overall health.

Alcohol & caffeine Simple. It takes about 2-hours to metabolize an ounce of alcohol, so try to limit intake to no more than one drink at least 2-hours before bedtime. Caffeine metabolizes far more slowly. a large cup of coffee could take up to 15 hours to fully metabolize, so the general rule is no caffeine after lunch.

Go to sleep at a consistent time. Establish a consistent sleep time and make it a strong priority to keep to that time, even on weekends. Over time, this helps train your system to expect and accept sleep more readily.

Develop a routine. Along the same lines, create a specific bedtime routine that you can repeat every night before retiring. This helps program your mind to ease into sleep more readily.

Avoid napping during the day. If you nap throughout the day, it is no wonder that you will not be able to sleep at night. The late afternoon for most people is a "sleepy time." Many people will take a nap at that time. This is generally not a bad thing to do, provided you limit the nap to 30-45 minutes and can sleep well at night.

I have no idea why they’re trying to ruin my life with this nonsense.

Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep.

Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible.
I’m told by those who should know that this one will also help you avoid cancer. Wow, huh?

There you have it--motivation to get more and better sleep. So what about you? How are your sleep habits? Do you suffer from apnea? Restless leg syndrome? Insomnia? Or are you, like me, an expert in the field?


Anonymous said...

Im with you, Lois. Sleeping is a vastly under-rated activity!

I, too, can--and do--fall asleep anywhere. Even under a pool table once at a party (It was the quietest, most out-of-the-way place I could find).

Eight hours is the bare minimum for me. Ten is heaven.

Keri Ford said...

I sleep a lot too. When my mom met my step-dad, and we visited his parents, my now grandma always got tickled because I'd just curl up, in a strang house, under some strangers coat and take me a little nap. (I was about 5)

I've passed my joy for sleeping on to my little boy. every since he got walking down, whether it be a nap or bedtime, he gets his blanket and brings it to me all happy, grining, and excited to go to bed. Weirdest thing.

I suffer from a thyroid disfuction. Thought it was restless legs, but my thyroid's all whacked out. strill trying to get my medicine under control, but until then, not much sleep for me as it makes me hot and my mind run ninty mph at night (among other things). Now if I could only get it to get my body running at the speed of my mind I could shave a few pounds.

PJ said...

I do believe I could challenge you to a spot on the sleeping medal podium, Lois. I've always been able to sleep anyplace, anytime. I once slept for four hours on a school bus on rough roads with my head banging against the window the entire ride. My fellow bus riders were in awe. ;) On a business airplane trip, in one of those little regional puddle-jumpers, I slept through a horrible thunderstorm with all the associated turbulence. We landed, I opened my eyes and said, "What a great flight!" My co-worker, who was a lovely shade of green, looked at me like I'd lost my mind and said, "I'm never flying again!". lol

I was afraid menopause would have a negative impact on my sleeping but so far, no problems. Really, the only negative impact on my sleep these days is an elderly dog with a weak bladder. But for that, I'd probably still be sleeping 10 hours a night.

Keri Ford said...

BTW, Lois, The title of your post is "What I Do Best" and the first thing I see is a naked man in a bed who looks thorouhly satisfied. And then we see him two times more. I wondered what you were about to tell us.


Betina Krahn said...

Lois, I'm a decent sleeper. . . usually have no trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep. So when I'm waking up at 3 am (which is universally known to doctors and psychologists as "the anxiety hour") of tossing and turning an hour after retiring, I know something's really wrong. My solution is to get up and write down whatever's worrying me (like morning pages-- just let 'er rip) and then I can usually go back to bed and to sleep with no trouble.

I do think exercise helps and as I add a few years, taking off a few pounds helps, too. Also having a softer bed than the old "slab" of my youthful days helps. 300 count or better sheets help, too. Love that soft, silky feel. Sigh.

Oh, yes. . . and cutting down on sugar does help. . . in a lot of ways.

Great blog! Thanks, Lois!

Liza said...

I love to sleep! Exercise does help me to sleep better, but I can nap anywhere at any time. If fact, if I don't get my nap on the weekends, I can be a bear. I don't really get to nap during the week, since I work until 5 and then go to they gym. I have noticed if I miss out on a nap from the weekend, I go to be much earlier the next few nights to make up for the missed sleep.

Playground Monitor said...

Restless leg syndrome here. I take meds for it and those pretty much knock me out as well as relax my legs so I'm not twitching all over the place. Despite them, I sometimes have nights when the twitchiness breaks through and I have to get up and sit in a tub of hot water to relax my legs enough to let me go back to sleep.

Anybody else ever get caught in that hypnotic state between sleep and being awake? I had it happen last Friday night and kept thinking I heard the TV on even though the DH was in bed beside me and it was off. And I was kinda paralyzed. Weird.


Keri Ford said...

Marilyn, I've done that before. Can't move at all. I swear I saw someone standing at the end of our bed. All I could do was breath hard and that finally woke my husband up, and he was able to shake me, which woke me up.

freaked me the crap out.

Helen Brenna said...

I used to be a great sleeper and then perimenopause hit. But that's a whole nother blog!

lois greiman said...

Keri, I just didn't want to visually disappoint you guys after Betina's post yesterday. :)

Michele Hauf said...

I won't challenge you to any sleep-offs, but I do enjoy my 9 hours nightly. And I'm not paying attention to that paragraph on naps. I do working naps and cat naps. The working ones involve gathering the cats and lying down on the bed in the afternoon to plot and generally mentally do bad things to my good characters. This is done in a near-nap state. It can become a cat nap also. Which is a good 20 minutes of serious snoring. Yeah, I wake myself up sometimes with my snoring. You wanna make somethin' out of it? :-)

lois greiman said...


You made me laugh. Isn't it great being able to impress people with your sleeping ability???

CherylStJohn said...

I know that sleep is necessary, but I've always hated to sleep. It seems like such a waste of time when there's so much living to do. I was much worse about this when I was younger, but I still resent the time required to sleep.

My cousins and I used to see if we could make it all night long without sleeping. We'd play Trivial Pursuit until 5am and then grab a couple of hours before the kids got up.

If we didn't sleep....
* we'd have more writing hours
* we wouldn't have to fix our hair every day
* we wouldn't have to make the bed or change the sheets nearly as often

But then we'd probably die of exhaustion.

I will take your facts to heart and try to embrace sleep.


MsHellion said...

I am an EXPERT. In fact, I'm such an expert that when my friend went bed-shopping a few years ago, she took me along and introduced me to all the salesmen as "she's the bed expert!"

They say you shouldn't do your work in your bed...or use your bed for anything but sleeping, which I find crazy, because I don't have any trouble differentiating between sleep and "staying up to watch a show"--and once the tv is turned off, I fall back on my pillow and I'm out like a glass-jawed pugilist.

I do usually have to have my room pretty cool to sleep, though I can sleep when I'm hot too...just not as satisfactory. And I try not to drink anything right before bedtime because there is nothing I hate more than having to get up in the middle of the night to pee.

On weekdays (since I have an 8-5 job) I get about 6, occasionally 7 hours of sleep; on the weekends, I usually get about 10. (And on weekends, I nap.) I love sleeping. I don't understand people who say, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." That is crazy. *LOL*

I also sleep alone--nice big bed--and don't have to share anything. NICE. This is only bad in winter when it's cold and I want someone to huddle near; however, I don't want it enough to find someone--he'd probably only snore anyway (though I do have earplugs).

lois greiman said...

Cheryl, what??? Sleeping's the best. Interesting though that you and your cousins would go without sleep. Do you suppose the love/need for sleep is genetic? Two of my kids aren't great sleepers, but the third is just like me. If he's immobile he's probably unconscious.

lois greiman said...

Hellion--I read that rubbish too about keeping your bed just for sleeping. Silly. Absolutely silly. My body knows when it's time to sleep; it's when my eyes are closed...or when horizontal...or with someone really boring. :)

Anna And Sean said...

I'm not going to win any contests but I love sleep! The problem is that I never ever get enough. On a good night I can get maybe 5 hours straight, which is nowhere near enough for me. Sometimes I get the walking zombie thing and will just crash. I have several medical problems, including a wonky heart and insomnia. I did a sleep study once and the nurse kept coming in to lecture me on the beauty of actually falling asleep... it took hours before I could sleep. She was pissed:) I've tried meds to help sleep but then you actually turn into that lifeless zombie I mentioned and I have 2 kids (6 and 8) that are incapable of understanding why a person would want to sleep all the time. My kids take after some strange anti-sleep fairy which causes them to fight bedtime or any form of restful relaxation. They even like waking up early (like Daddy) which is something I would never smile about. So, I love to sleep but I just don't seem to get enough time doing it.

Debra Dixon said...

Lois! Timely reminder for me.

I either sleep like a rock, anywhere, anytime, or I don't notice I haven't slept. Sometimes I just look around and realize I've been up for 20 hours. Mostly when the hubby is out of town, which he is a lot.

Last night I clicked off the light and realized I'd been up for 20 hours.

lois greiman said...

Anna, you're making me weep. Five hours a night isn't nearly enough. I get that much between meals. :)

But maybe that's the beauty of being a writer. We can always say, "I'm plotting. It just works better with my eyes closed. Which, actually, it sometimes does.

Michele Hauf said...

mshellion brought it up.... What is it with having to get up at night to pee? I hate that! I've tried not drinking before bed and it still doesn't work. Am I just getting old?

lois greiman said...

Yep. :)

Lori said...

I, too, am an expert sleeper. Back before caffeine gave me migraines, I used to drink 3 or 4 cups after dinner and go right to sleep. I fell asleep on a Friday night at a pick-up bar in college once. Put my head right on the bar, LOL.

I once fell asleep on my feet at a Boston concert (hey, it was during the boring 3rd album zzzzzzz). And, ok, I had a little help from some stuff we won't tell the kids about, but still. It was a loud rock concert.

According to my hubby, who has been present at all those occasions and many more, I'm a legend.

lois greiman said...

Lori, we could start a club: The Sleeping Legends or The Day Sleepers or... Let me work on this.

Currently, you and Anonymous and PJ are tied for Best Sleeper, I think. I like the pool table story.

When we start our club we should give out awards.

catslady said...

I do it all wrong. I have my coffee late at night - strong too. If I get more than 7 hours of sleep it's a miracle - some nights only 4. I watch late night TV, read and wait for my daughter to come home at all hours lol.

Kristina Wright said...

Sleep! I love sleep, but it's a long-distance love affair. :) I'm a chronic insomniac with the combined problems of not being able to fall asleep and not being able to stay asleep. Sleeping more than 5 hours straight is cause for an announcement (though it's usually because I'm sick and taking meds). My typical nightly routine involves taking 30-60 minutes to fall asleep (usually closer to 60) and then waking up 2-4 times in the night for anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour.

I've been this way my entire life and figure I average about 5-6 hours of sleep a night (even if I might be in bed for 8 hours). I didn't realize I had a problem until I was teenager and saw a special about sleep that said the average person takes 6 minutes to fall asleep! That was astounding to me-- still is!

The funny thing is, I don't mind my insomnia too much unless I'm exhausted from a really bad night (less than 3 hours of sleep) or need to get up early (I sometimes sleep best in the 5-7 AM window). On those rare occasions (maybe 6 times a year), when I get more than five hours of unmedicated sleep, I feel like I've been cheated out of those middle of the night waking periods when I solve all the world's problems (or at least my own).

I'm weird, I admit it. :)

lois greiman said...

A long distance love affair--very cute.

As for myself, I often can't remember turning off the light. Seriously. There is no coherent thought between lights out and snoring. It's great.

On the other hand, people think nothing of waking me, cuz they KNOW I will fall asleep again before they leave the room. But it still irritates me.

Jane said...

I have trouble sleeping. Even if I'm tired it takes me about half an hour to fall asleep. I sometimes take sleeping pills.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Remember when you were a teenager and you could sleep until noon--or later!

I had trouble sleeping through the night when I hit menopause. I'm doing better with it now, but the pause upsets the system. They don't call it the change for nothing.

I use earplugs, want total darkness, and love cold air. Can't sleep in a hot room. I keep a window cracked open at night all winter. I want to snuggle in a cozy down comforter.

Estella said...

I have no trouble falling asleep, but I'm awake by 4 am. This is the time I got up before my husband retired and 3 years later i still wake at this time.

lois greiman said...

Estella, even I, Ms SuperSleep, admit that I have to get up early. I love the hours just after dawn when the world is still my own.

PJ said...

I also love getting up early. I just came home from a week at the beach where I got up every morning to watch the glorious sunrise over the Atlantic. Food for the soul.

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey Lois. I've been gone all day so I'm chiming in late. All the the things you say to do or avoid doing before bedtime are TRUE. If I eat something sweet within a few hours of going to bed I BOUNCE off the walls. Same with caffeine. So avoid not only coffee but those sodas, ladies and gents

lois greiman said...

Cindy, food is a sedative for me. Go figure huh!

Virginia Lady said...

I'm finally catching up on reading my favorite blogs. This topic is a timely one for me. We just recently changed our bedroom curtains to ones that are the room-darkening kind. What a difference it made for our sleep!

It was amazing how much better we were sleeping. We also covered those alarm clocks with their digital displays, shut the power to the TV/Satellite so no more little red lights, and we unplugged the soft glow night lights we had gotten years ago when I needed to get up at night with babies.

Those changes made a great difference in how well we slept. I recommend making your bedroom DARK as a first easy step to better night time sleeping.

Now, if I could just get my husband to do something about his snoring... oh well.