The Early Bird Does Not Always Get the Worm

by Colin Aina

I sleep in a cave. Until I'm supposed to wake, I despise the notion of that giant ball of gas peeking through my window at 93 million miles away. To combat this, I've become quite skilled in the art of homemade blackout shades. This started as far back as I can remember; I would take numerous towels and drape them from the flimsy curtain rod and stuff the tops and sides as well. My current situation is such that I have dark-colored bamboo blinds and burnt ochre drapes. This works surprisingly well in lieu of my adolescent contraptions, even though my bedroom is south facing. 

I do this because I mostly get into my deepest sleep at about 4am, the darkest part of the night (how appropriate!). This lends getting up at what some consider "early" more difficult for me. I find that I function best with just over 8 hours of total sleep. This is factored as the amount of time I spend sleeping, not from the time I get into bed until the time I have to wake. I also get up at least 2 times a night due to being well-hydrated. Are you calculating your sleep this way?? Probably not.

I do my best to be in my bed at 10pm on work nights to be able to wake up at 5 or 6am and I usually fall asleep within 25 mins. Due to my 30 years of sports when most of my practices and training was done after school/classes in the early afternoon or late am, I'm not one to exercise within 2 hours of waking when my body hasn't had a chance to wake fully, especially if I'm not fully rested. There has been recent data published to support that exercise later in the day is more productive as compared to early morning by 20%. I don't know what they mean by "productive"..but whatevs (I heard this on on a recent NPR broadcas,t but I have yet to see the study).

From an early age I recall feeling a negative light being shined upon sleeping. My mother and older teenage sister would have screaming matches in the morning because she refused to get up for school. On Saturday mornings, my mother would rip open all the shades and either have the tv or radio on full blast in an attempt to be subtle in waking the whole house. Teenagers and growing adolescents may need a lot more sleep than a regimented adult due to the amount of things they are trying to absorb on a daily basis. Thanks mom! 

According to the CDCP, 1/3 of American adults don't get enough sleep. I also feel that there is this societal view of sleep as a form of weakness and, for some strange reason, people that get adequate sleep are regarded as lazy. How often have you heard someone braggingly say, "Well I've been up since ______"? It doesn't help that we have a president that touts sleeping 3hrs/night (as well as the invalue of exercise).

I don't think I need to go into the benefits of sleep, but it's worth pointing out a few reasons WHY our body sleeps:

1. Storage of long term memories: We spend half of our sleep in non-REM or deep sleep. That deepness goes through 3 stages, N1, N2 and N3 (the most important). Long term memories are thought to be stored while we are in N2. 

2. Recovery & Repair- In deep N3 sleep, the heart rate and blood pressure drop which give your cardiovascular system a chance to recover. We spend 20% in N3 and it is also the time when the body repairs muscle, cells and organs by elevating the levels of growth hormone. So if you aren't getting enough sleep in between a hard workout or training routine, you will notice that you stay sore longer and are more prone to injury.

**It is important to note that as we age, we spend less time in this deep, restorative state of sleep. It is speculated that at about the age of 65 it could get as low as zero.

3. Decrease stress- The regulation of hormones happens while we sleep. Most notably the stress hormone, cortisol, decreases. Lack of sleep also has an effect on the hormones leptin and ghrelin which control hunger cravings, and, in some cases, can cause us to eat when we aren't hungry(!!). 

4. Reset the brain- We acquire a lot of information throughout the day and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is thought to rid the brain of information that we do not need. 

Besides the benefits listed above, lack of sleep can lead to many health problems (duh). It is apparent that the older we get, we need more sleep to facilitate these benefits and to negate the adverse effects of sleep depravity. Despite these glaring reasons, we still choose to keep ourselves "on" constantly. We choose to live in a 24/7 world where social media, work emails and texts cut into our much needed rest time. How many of you spend time on your phone before you go to bed? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and check your phone? Do you have your phone alerts on at night? 

I also want to propose that socioeconomic status may have an effect on our ability to rest. Those with multiple jobs whom struggle to make ends meet, are likely to feel the strains of sleep loss. Along the same lines, having a "hard work" work-ethic frowns upon sleep and there is a perception of laziness associated with it. 

What could you be doing better to get BETTER sleep, not more??