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Sleep

By Tim Hayes

A comedian I saw on TV not long ago did a full five minutes on sleep, and how ridiculous it would sound to aliens trying to understand us earthlings.

“Okay, so you mean that these creatures, the very top of the food chain around here, with brains that can outperform any other form of intelligence, need to completely – COMPLETELY – shut down for one-third of their existence, just to remain functional?”

“Well…yes, General.”

“Great!  This will be a piece of cake!  We attack at dawn!  No, wait…we attack at midnight!”

Doctors, your mother, hell, even Arianna Huffington in her book “The Sleep Revolution,” all agree that eight uninterrupted hours of sleep remains an essential element in mental, emotional, and physical health.  Ha!  Talk about comedians!  Now THAT is funny!

According to Gallup, 59% of Americans get seven or more hours of sleep at night, while 40% get less than seven hours. Those figures are largely unchanged from Gallup polls in the 1990s and 2000s.  Americans on average, though, slept much more in the 1940s.  Americans currently average 6.8 hours of sleep at night, down more than an hour from 1942.

They got more sleep in 1942.  Think about that.  The U.S. had just entered World War II.  The spread of Nazi fascism and Japanese imperialism had yet to be reversed, much less defeated.  D-Day and the invasion of France was still two years off.  Nobody knew when or how this global cataclysm would end – or if it ever would.

And yet Americans still got more sleep than we do today.  How is that possible?

I blame the iPhone, an out-of-whack economy, and the twisting of priorities across this society.  Stress makes people wrecks, both outwardly and within.  The physiological effects of stress actually reach down to cellular level, making us sick, constricting blood flow to the brain and other parts of the body.

The absolute worst thing anybody can do at night before trying to go to sleep is the one thing most people continue to do with regularity – watch and listen to the news.  Local news in particular, where every forecast emanates from the SEVERE WEATHER CENTER, every snowstorm rivals Armageddon, and the fate of your neighbors – or even YOU – lies at the mercy of druglords and roving bands of heavily armed marauders, just around the corner.

Then there are the political ads.  Good grief, no wonder we can’t get a solid night’s rest!

Personally, I love to sleep.  If I had my druthers, I would take a two-hour nap each afternoon, just like my rhetorical hero, Winston Churchill.  That crafty old bloke religiously took a London siesta from 4 to 6 pm., then took a second bath of the day, ate his dinner, and worked until well after midnight – from the Battle of Britain to Yalta and right up to the day he fell asleep and never woke again.

But the modern pressures of business, family, friends, and community involvement obligations tug and pull at us all, sapping our energy, fraying our nerves, limiting our rest, shortening our lives.  Wouldn’t it be worth the effort, though, to stop and think about all that?  Why do we feel the need to move so fast?  To take on so much?  To push and reach and climb until we collapse?

The mind can be so much smarter than the brain.  The brain cracks the whip, setting goals, insisting on striving beyond ourselves, using fear and stress to keep us running on that metaphorical treadmill.  The mind, however, remains smart enough to either temper those impulses, or to simply shut the body down entirely in self-defense.

Is that any way to live?  Where’s the balance?  Where’s the fun?  Where’s the perspective?

We have some crazy people running the world these days, make no mistake, but they said the same thing in 1942.  And the situation had become a lot worse for that generation that it has for ours.  Still, they found a way to get their proper rest, even amid the madness.  Old Churchill, too.

We ought to do the same.  It couldn’t hurt.

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes