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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Sleep is a peculiar thing; we don’t really think of it much until we don’t have enough of it.

I awoke this morning at 2:30.  I awoke fully alert.  I knew immediately that going back to sleep was hopeless.  I arose, worked on the website for a while, made coffee, and the cats and I shared some time together on the front porch.  I know the cats won’t be bothered by awaking early; they’ll work in their catnaps as they need them, but I suspect I’ll suffer later in the day for my early rising.

Smarter people than I say newborns require 16 to 18 hours of sleep a day; preschool children, 11-12 hours; school aged children, 10 hours; teens, 9-10 hours; adults, 7-8 hours.  According to studies, the elderly require the same amount of sleep as other adults.  I’m suspicious of this last “fact.”

Last night I guess I got about 5 and ½ hours sleep---undoubtedly not enough.  Maybe after noon today, I’ll catch a little nap.  Not likely though.

Lately I’ve been unable to predict how long I’ll sleep; increasingly I arise before 5.  Other days I sleep until 10.  Fortunately I have no job to go to, but I do have things to do: painting, writing, preparing the website, taking out the trash.

Recently a friend of ours went to a sleep apnea institution in Bryan, Texas.   Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder caused by someone repeatedly stopping breathing and thus waking.  The sleep apnea shop came up with the cause of her disorder: her metabolism was off, and she sleeps fine now.

I don’t think sleep apnea is my problem.  I suspect it’s just old age slapping me around.

I recall that when I was a teenager, I slept for long periods of time resisting my mother’s insistence that I arise early in the morning.  I recall when I was in the service that a little stronger force than my mother made me arise around 6; that meant I got about six hours sleep each night because midnight, curfew, was my time to seek sleep.  During my working years, I probably averaged around seven hours each night.

Now that I’m retired, there are no restrictions, and my body pretty much decides on its own when it wants to be active and when it wants to rest.

At some point in our lives, I suspect all of us ask the question, “Why do we sleep?”  I did a little research and found that the scientists are not altogether sure, but they do have a few theories.

The adaptive or evolutionary theory proposes that animals, in order to protect themselves, remained inactive at night thus avoiding being eaten by other animals or coming to some other bad end and the animals that thus survived this way became greater contributors to the gene pool and thus developed the sleep pattern.  Hogwash!

The energy conservation theory proposes that sleep developed as a way to conserve energy during the less productive part of the day.  Hmmm.

The restorative theory proposes that we sleep to allow our bodies to repair themselves and restore what they lost during the waking hours.  During sleep the brain consolidates memories and skills, strengthening, reorganizing, and restructuring memories.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

At any rate, we do sleep and we seem to be the better for sleeping.

Here are a few “fun” facts about sleep.

Sleep is universal among complex living organisms: insects, mollusks, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals.  Giraffes sleep only 1.9 hours a day.  Koalas sleep up to 22 hours each day.  Only half of a dolphin’s mind goes to sleep at any time.

There are a lot of negatives health problems associated with sleep deprivation.  More than 70 million Americans suffer from the 84 identified sleep disorders.  Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are linked to sleep loss.  Unusually long (more than nine or ten hours) or unusually short (less than four hours) are associated with higher than average risk of dying prematurely---I’ve got to quit getting up so early! 

We all know that lack of sleep can have some bad effects on our daily lives.  Sleep related errors and accidents cause nearly 25,000 deaths, 2.5 million disabling injuries and cost US companies approximately $56 billion annually.  Being tired results in more single car accidents than alcohol.  Nothing good can come of 48% of air-traffic controllers nodding off on the job.
Okay, here’s some more interesting stuff.  People can survive longer without food than without sleep.  The amount of sleep for folks dropped from nine to seven-and-one-half hours after the invention of the light bulb.  Sleep deprivation
is the most effective form of coercion and torture.  Electric blankets can negatively affect the quality of sleep.  If you go to sleep within five minutes after lying down, you suffer from severe sleep deprivation.  Children don’t react to sleepiness the way adults do: they become hyperactive.  Sixty-five percent of Americans lose sleep because of stress.  Blind folks have more sleeping problems than the sighted.  Women are twice as likely to suffer from insomnia as men: I suspect men will get the blame for this.

Under the heading of “Holycrap!”:  Ken Parks murdered his mother-in-law with a tire iron and tried to kill his father-in-law by strangulation used sleepwalking as his defense.  He was acquitted.  A Chinese merchant murdered his wife; he was sentenced to sleep deprivation which resulted in death on the nineteenth day. 

The most interesting element of sleep for me is dreaming.  According to studies, we dream four to six times each night totaling two hours.  Within five minutes of waking, 50% of a dream is forgotten.  Within ten minutes, 90% is forgotten. 

In my youth, last century, I often dreamed and retained my memories of them for some time.  Some I even remember to this day.  However, lately I don’t remember a damned thing.  I miss my dreams.

enough