I am not a neurologist nor am I a sleep specialist. I, probably like you, have had my share of irregular sleep patterns and periods at different times in my life. I have believed that I am one of the very small percentage of people who can get by with less than 7 hours of sleep. It took many years and much crankiness to realize I am not my best when I am tired. I do not work well, I do not behave in a kind and compassionate manner towards others and I am blind to the beauty and joy that may be at my feet.
At one point my children thought “I’m tired” was my middle name because I said it so many times. For many years I got up super early to get to the gym every day and then drank diet coke every afternoon to make it through the day. Not the worst of habits, however, the mid-afternoon caffeine was similar to using a credit card. It was borrowed energy that would have interest due at some later date.
Recently I was preparing for a program about sleep and the brain. I’d been reading that some sleep experts recommend that in the long run, that extra half hour of sleep is better for you than getting up early to get to your workout at the gym.
What? Yes, if you have been the one sleeping in all these years, you are smiling now and feeling very good. How could this be? Sleep seems to be good for us in ways we are still trying to understand. The studies are linking what happens when our brains are at rest to a critical clean-up for our brains. (Don’t give up your am gym visit quite yet!)
In a recently published study in April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, losing just one night of sleep led to an increase in beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain associated with impaired brain function and Alzheimer’s disease. The results suggest that sleep deprivation may increase the risk for beta-amyloid build-up.
You know I am not an alarmist but this certainly gave me pause. Diseases like Alzheimer’s are called “dirty brain diseases,” because something is going wrong with our wiring or perhaps it is our clean-up system. The best metaphor that I could come up with is that if I am awake, then it is as if I am occupying my office. For the cleaning crew to be most effective, I need to vacate so they can clean up. I need to sleep so my brain gets a good cleaning and works properly.
Arianna Huffington, who fell asleep at her desk and smashed her face on her desk and broke her cheekbone is now one of the most prominent sleep evangelists. She even has a little blankie to put her cell phone to sleep at night. Here are her recommendations for more sleep and her new book Sleep Revolution.
It’s all food for thought. We each have to decide what we feel is best for our own unique life. For me, I love to sleep and see napping as an art that needs lots of practice. For me, this is a welcome invitation to do more of something I love. It seems sleep is even better for me than I realized.
Now I’m off to dig through my scraps of fabric to find a blankie for my cell phone.