Getting a good night’s sleep

Some fascinating insights into the nature of sleep.

Of the eleven dogs that we have at home, five are in what Jean and I call our bedroom group.  That group consists of Pharaoh, he of the LfD home page, young puppy GSD Cleo, little Jack Russell cross Sweeny, ex-Mexican rescue dogs Dhalia and Hazel.

Puppy Cleo

Most nights all of them except Pharaoh compete for space on the bed.  Turning over, as we all do during our sleep, is a challenge and I often have to be awake to accomplish the task.  Plus Cleo especially loves to wake me for an early-morning pee around 5am.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have it any other way as much of the night, when I have turned to face the edge of the bed, my arm is around either Hazel or Dhalia.  To sleep with an arm around a dog that is cuddled into one’s chest is to stir wonderings of early man sleeping with his (her) dogs many thousands of years ago.

Plus one of the consequences of our regular fasting on Thursday and Friday of each week is that the reduced calorie intake seems to act as a diuretic for me; ergo, I am taking regular trips to the bathroom during the night!

Anyway, the result of these disturbed patterns of ‘sleeping’ is that my ambition of an unbroken 8 hours of sleep is rarely achieved.  So it was with great interest that I saw an article on the Big Think website, “Rethinking the 8-Hour Sleep Imperative, or Why You Should Take Naps“.  Here’s how it opened,

A restful night that includes eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is now more of a fallacy than ever before, partially because technology has demanded we attend to work, family and friends at all hours of the day. “[R]oughly 41 million people in the United States—nearly a third of all working adults—get six hours or fewer of sleep a night, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” But our own rigidity with respect to sleep patterns may be causing us harm, too, as we demand our bodies conform to the eight-hour regimen rather than observing more natural rhythms.

At the bottom there was a link to an article on The New York Times Sunday Review called Rethinking Sleep.  That set out, following from above,

And sleep deprivation is an affliction that crosses economic lines. About 42 percent of workers in the mining industry are sleep-deprived, while about 27 percent of financial or insurance industry workers share the same complaint.

The author, David K. Randall*, went on to write,

The idea that we should sleep in eight-hour chunks is relatively recent. The world’s population sleeps in various and surprising ways. Millions of Chinese workers continue to put their heads on their desks for a nap of an hour or so after lunch, for example, and daytime napping is common from India to Spain.

One of the first signs that the emphasis on a straight eight-hour sleep had outlived its usefulness arose in the early 1990s, thanks to a history professor at Virginia Tech named A. Roger Ekirch, who spent hours investigating the history of the night and began to notice strange references to sleep. A character in the “Canterbury Tales,” for instance, decides to go back to bed after her “firste sleep.” A doctor in England wrote that the time between the “first sleep” and the “second sleep” was the best time for study and reflection. And one 16th-century French physician concluded that laborers were able to conceive more children because they waited until after their “first sleep” to make love. Professor Ekirch soon learned that he wasn’t the only one who was on to the historical existence of alternate sleep cycles. In a fluke of history, Thomas A. Wehr, a psychiatrist then working at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., was conducting an experiment in which subjects were deprived of artificial light. Without the illumination and distraction from light bulbs, televisions or computers, the subjects slept through the night, at least at first. But, after a while, Dr. Wehr noticed that subjects began to wake up a little after midnight, lie awake for a couple of hours, and then drift back to sleep again, in the same pattern of segmented sleep that Professor Ekirch saw referenced in historical records and early works of literature.

Later on, Mr. Randall highlights a NASA study …

In a NASA-financed study, for example, a team of researchers led by David F. Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that letting subjects nap for as little as 24 minutes improved their cognitive performance.

then reports that,

Robert Stickgold, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, proposes that sleep — including short naps that include deep sleep — offers our brains the chance to decide what new information to keep and what to toss. That could be one reason our dreams are laden with strange plots and characters, a result of the brain’s trying to find connections between what it’s recently learned and what is stored in our long-term memory. Rapid eye movement sleep — so named because researchers who discovered this sleep stage were astonished to see the fluttering eyelids of sleeping subjects — is the only phase of sleep during which the brain is as active as it is when we are fully conscious, and seems to offer our brains the best chance to come up with new ideas and hone recently acquired skills. When we awaken, our minds are often better able to make connections that were hidden in the jumble of information.

Anyway, do go and read the full article or, perhaps, follow the example of your dog!

Meanwhile, I think I will just take a little …….. nap!

* David K. Randall is a senior reporter at Reuters and the author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.”

9 thoughts on “Getting a good night’s sleep

  1. I can’t imagine getting a full 8 hours’ sleep on a regular basis! Every once in a while, maybe. That’s wonderful you can sleep with your pets. I can, too. They comfort me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.