“You can sleep when you are dead,” a friend chides.
Offering an awkward chuckle, I was too tired to supply a witty response. In America, we stifle our collective yawn to meet the next pressing deadline. But there is a more important deadline than the latest accounting project: our (sleep) health. For a painful few, sleep is an elusive dream.
In American society, we sacrifice sleep for employment or academic obligations. In competitive academic programs, we brag about the number of all-nighters we pull. Time has chronicled the sleep fatigue of first-year residents and its damning effect on patients.
In my professional program, I would burn the midnight — and sometimes 2 or 3 am — oil. Believing it was a badge of honor to push through numbing tiredness, I would stumble to class. Bleary-eyed, I would slink down in the cavernous auditorium’s back row. As the professor scanned the lecture hall for his next victim, I would offer a silent prayer to the law school God. “Please do not call on me. I will read and highlight the entire Williams case. I promise. Just please don’t call on me,” I would silently plead to any deity willing to listen. At 8:00 AM, my mind was the equivalent of your 1987 Volvo: running on fumes. And, if I was really lucky, a couple hours of shut-eye. Collapsing into bed–or a cozy nook in the law school library, the vicious cycle continued. My sleep habits needed a check-up. Desperately.
Magazine articles — from Men’s Journal to Time — are complicit in America’s sleep crisis. These publications exalt productivity, extolling Americans on how to cram more into already overstuffed lives. The implication: sleep is for the mentally weak. If you are driven, your indefatigable will can overcome any sleep deficit.
Let those magazines prattle on. Science has proven time and time again how essential sleep is to restore your mind and body. Studies have shown that people with dysfunctional sleep patterns are three times as likely as regular sleepers to die prematurely. Irregular sleep habits are also correlated with obesity and an increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease. And for those late-night crammers frantically prepping for that momentous exam, here is a universal study tip: shut the book–and your eyes. Compromised sleep — even for one night — impairs your memory. You are failing more than that all-important chem exam.
As someone who has struggled with sleep, a routine has been critical to a more peaceful slumber. As my sleep habits have improved, my physical and mental health have followed suit. I am more patient and easygoing; my mind is refreshed. In the morning, I attack the day — as opposed to stumbling through mental quicksand.
As mental health consumers, sleep is often overlooked in our perpetual quest for mind health. With anxiety rummaging through your stomach’s pit or depressive thoughts entangling your brain’s synapses, the temptation is to shriek for immediate relief. But with a healthy night’s sleep, that gnawing pit and those depressive thoughts miraculously vanish. Now that is the sweetest of dreams.
Somers, Virend (2016, July 8). “Building the Midnight Oil Can Be Bad For Your Health.” Well Living Lab. Retrieved from http://welllivinglab.com/burning-the-midnight-oil-can-be-bad-for-your-health/.