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Amplifications: To sleep, perchance to dream — or not

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By Saturday, Feb 2, 2019 Viewpoints

None of us, apparently, are getting enough sleep.

Adults should be getting at least seven hours of shut-eye a night, teenagers up to 11 hours and young children should sleep anywhere from 8 to 14 hours a night.

It sound like a lot, doesn’t it? Which is probably why most of us aren’t well rested. Personally, I haven’t slept well since about 1970. That’s a lie. I have never slept well.

My mother tells me that my predilection for staying up all night was there from the onset. As an infant I wanted to be awake in the evening and asleep in the morning. That has never changed. My deepest sleep seems to come at the same time everyone else is getting up to face the world. I have always thrived when I can go to bed at one or two in the morning and sleep for seven or eight hours. You can just guess at how well that has worked when facing a regular work schedule. And now that I am getting older I can’t stay asleep in the morning, yet have trouble falling asleep at a normal time, a time when the rest of the world is winding down.

I tried a sleep study many years ago at Mass General Hospital. I was told to take a week off from work and just fall asleep when I could the first night. The next night I was to go to bed three hours later. I worked my way around the clock until I hit on 11 pm and was always to go to sleep at that hour. It worked for about three months, and then my internal clock once again took over.

While I have never checked this, I suspect I have a mutated gene that changes my circadian rhythm and puts me on a 24-and-a-half-hour cycle, closer to a Martian’s biorhythm than an earthling’s. According to a report on nbc.news.com, “The mutation is in a gene called CRY1 and when people have it, every cell in their body runs on the wrong time. They can end up being night owls but often, the effects are much more disruptive.”

The solution is the same for every insomniac I know: try harder. The advice is always the same for everyone, sound sleeper and night owl alike: Take anything out of your bedroom that emits a light. No caffeine or spicy food before bed, get regular exercise, get enough sunshine, only use sleep medications for a short period of time. In fact, I stay away from caffeine after my two morning cups. Now that CBD oil is widely available I use that, as it seems to be safer than anything the doctor has ever prescribed. It helps most nights. Some nights, not so much. Sometimes I use a mediation app on my phone.

Last summer I attended a lecture about sleep at the One Day University held every year at Tanglewood. Dr. Jessica Payne, associate professor from Notre Dame University and Nancy O’Neill Collegiate Chair in psychology, informed hundreds of us to take a 20-to-90-minute nap during the day if we need it and find a way to sleep more. She offered the usual suggestions, but emphasized the harm we do ourselves, and our memories, by not getting enough sleep.

Many of us wear it as a badge of honor, especially students who pull all-nighters to study or to party and then make up for their lack of studying. I hope to discourage this habit in my daughter when she leaves for college, as it does more harm than good. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the disruption to memory is immediate and the links to lack of sleep include depression and anxiety. But I found the more interesting point to be that no one teaches us about good sleep hygiene.

Schools teach our kids to stay off of drugs, avoid unwanted pregnancies, and to write a term paper, but shouldn’t they also be taught about proper sleep habits? Progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery are solutions I wish I had learned in school. Reaching for natural remedies such as chamomile or valerian or kava should all be in our wheelhouses because most of us have trouble sleeping at one point or another. Frankly, I would have found this more useful than the time I spent learning to play the recorder or that math problem with the two trains.  But I was probably tired that day.


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