Monday, February 25, 2008

Sleep and Sleeplessness

Many people I know have been talking about their problems sleeping. A niece says she has only been able to sleep for four hours at a time. This basic bodily function is often the most difficult one to obtain at length and to enjoy. It’s no wonder that the advertisements on television late at night are for more comfortable beds or sleep aids. Advertisers are targeting those of us who spend so much of our lives sleep-deprived.

One misconception many of us used to have about sleep is that it cannot be made up once it has been lost. Sleep researchers now have admitted that any sleep debt we incur will continue to accumulate until we find a way to repay what we owe. My sleep debt dates from graduate school—beginning about twenty-two years ago.

Before I started teaching the remainder of my five sections this semester, I was having a recurring dream in which it’s the end of the semester, and I’m late in posting my students’ grades, having failed to make the deadline for submitting my grades online. It seemed as though I was concerned about updating my online classes, even though a couple of weeks remained before the remaining classes got underway. After three or four hours of sleep, during the long weekend in mid-January, I woke up from this dream and couldn’t get back to sleep. Even the attempts to picture myself in a favorite place didn't help to bring on sleep. It got to a point when I couldn’t remain in bed and couldn’t relax enough to rest my head on the pillow. This inability to remain in bed has now occurred often enough that I refer to it as the crazies; usually it happens when I’m forced to sleep away from the house. I ended up sitting in the living room on those nights and reading The Long Emergency while surrounded with our three cats, only getting back to bed after the sun came up.

Going without sleep can be so draining. I can usually get through the day if I am forced to remain awake (with the aid of vitamins, herbs, and caffeine) but finding enthusiasm or interest in anything is extremely difficult. It’s as though I’m one of the zombies that my son and his friends find so fascinating and so frightening.