Monday, March 3, 2008

You are getting sleeeepy, very slee...Oh. No you're not.

Hey, wake up! March 3 marks the start of National Sleep Awareness Week, a campaign from the National Sleep Awareness Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can expect to see regular sleep-related news features throughout the month, starting with research results released today. The news is grim, people, grim indeed. If you're not sleeping, there are plenty of people in the same bed.

According to a recent CDC study,
Nationwide, an estimated 50 to 70 million people suffer from chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders. Sleep loss is associated with health problems, including obesity, depression, and certain risk behaviors, including cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, and heavy drinking.

In addition, the study showed that only one out three (29.6 percent) of adults said they did get enough rest or sleep every day in the past month.

There is a lot of good information on the NSAW Website. If you'd prefer not to learn anything but just want to waste some time while you're waiting for more coffee to brew, try these games and challenges:
  • This game lets you scroll through about five categories of items where you add things to "your" room to gauge its sleep conduciveness.
  • Elementary, my dear! Click here to read incredibly noncommittal answers to questions about the link between insufficient sleep and mental health.
  • Just like to answer questions? Here's a slew of quizzes that will either leave you stimulated or so underwhelmed you'll be drooling before your head hits the desk.
  • See, you're supposed to read this stuff first and then take the quizzes, but personally, I prefer to know what I don't know before I read through stuff I don't need to read. You know?
Once you're on the site, you can also register to win a comfy new bed.

So, if you aren't getting enough sleep, why does it matter? It depends whom you ask. According to the January 2008 issue of InStyle magazine, the most threatening side-effect is weight gain (as opposed to, say, getting your hand chewed off in a piece of machinery because you've dozed off at work again). Obesity, according to the ominous warnings in InStyle, is where your life starts to unravel.

People who have sleep debt are more prone to chronic illnesses, including depression, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, although no one has specified if that's just because of the obesity. In addition, it makes you drive like a moron, lose your car keys, cry at Hallmark commercials, and if you're me, forget you had a doctor's appointment until it pops up in your memory a month after the fact.

We lack sleep for many reasons, not the least of which is a trend to sleep only about six hours per night. Six hours? What a luxury. Americans are mostly going to bed at 10:30 and getting up at 5:30. I go to bed at 11:00, maybe 11:30, and get out of bed at 6:00. Now, I realize that if you do the math, it appears I'm sleeping about seven hours per night. No, no, no. I am in bed for 6.5 hours per night, but I'm certainly not sleeping all that time. Silly.

Americans are busy. We're working longer (50 hours per week), taking more work home, watching TV, using the Internet, and generally stressing out over cramming everything into the day. Something's gotta give, and it appears that sleep is that thing. Car accidents attributed to sleep deprivation are on the rise--sharply--and the day may be coming when drowsy drivers are prosecuted with the same criteria as those who drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

So. Is there hope? Well, yes,'re not going to like the answer. Americans hate this answer. Suddenly, I feel patriotic. Work less. Go to bed earlier. Don't drink caffiene. Exercise.
Oh, no. Not the dreaded exercise. Yes, it's true. Moderate aerobic exercise for 20 m9inutes a day actually reduces some that sleep-deprivation-induced fatigue. I used to exercise and I became mental anyway. I've had insomnia for many years, despite exercise. Ha! I have empirical evidence that exercise isn't all that.

In further painfully obvious health news...

For many people, the worst part of the doctor visit is getting on the scale. University of Pennsylvania researchers say they believe some women may be avoiding the doctor just to avoid being weighed in front of other people. They surveyed 482 college-age men and women to determine how sensitive they were to the disclosure of personal information, including their weight.

The study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the medical journal Appetite, showed that women experienced high degrees of discomfort at the prospect of being weighed in the presence of others.“Weighing concern may make these women, particularly those who are overweight and already at risk for certain ailments, less likely to visit a doctor,” said lead author Andrew B. Geier, a doctoral candidate in the department of psychology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences.

“The real danger here is the heavier a person is, the more discomfort they feel and thus the more likely they may find reasons to skip appointments,” Mr. Geier said.

This is news? I won't weigh myself in front my cat. I find doctors to be more judgmental than helpful. When I finally worked up the courage to see the doctor last fall--for a sore throat--he told me there was nothing wrong with me that losing 50 pounds wouldn't take care of. (I have searched the Internet and can find no published studies linking sore throats and body fat, however.)

So, take care of yourselves. Snap on that sleep mask, squish in those ear plugs, and dream happy dreams. If you can't sleep, get up and exercise for 20 minutes. But be quiet. If you wake me up, I may have to kill you.

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