Friday, May 24, 2013

Sleeping for an audience

I have not slept in many odd places.  Maybe the oddest was when I was a young teen and joining the Order of the Arrow in the Boy Scouts.  We had to sleep in an open field but we did have ground cloths (waterproof tarps) to keep the ground moisture and dew from soaking us.  We followed in a straight line through a field and slept at the place the leader pointed to for each of us in turn.


Last night, I slept in a sleep center.  Lynn says I tend to snore some every night and snoring is a sign of possible apnea ("no breath").  I wore a test glove offered by a local dentist and it showed moderate apnea, about 18 times an hour where I stopped breathing for 10 seconds or more.  The body is evidently quite vigilant about getting oxygen and will stir the sleeper to correct the problem and get air.  However, the cessations of breathing are tough on the heart.  Restricted breathing that doesn't really completely cease is also hard on the heart which tends to beat faster to try and get more air to the lungs and through the body.  Also, the stirrings and elevated heartbeat awaken or partially awaken the sleeper, which degrades the quality of sleep.


As a boy, I was sometimes required to "go to bed" when I didn't feel sleepy and I had other, more exciting things I wanted to do.  But an incident in the 2nd grade convinced me that sleep mattered.  Although normally, reading was easy and fun, one day I had a devil of a time with the word "apple".  Later, I told my mom that I was stymied by the word and was surprised to have trouble during our reading class.  She said it was probably due to lack of sleep since family events had kept me up extra late the night before.


As a 5th grade teacher, I often wondered about the sleeping habits, conditions and routines of my students.  It seemed to me that good sleep was something even poor families could provide for their children although I now have a better appreciation of the possible noise, duties and conditions that might well prevent kids from regular, satisfying sleep.

I listened to Prof. Craig Heller of Stanford University discuss what science knows about sleep.  I learned that my general picture of the body more or less checking out during sleep and going into a neutral state of suspension of life is way off base.  Many processes in the brain and body are conducted during the hours of sleep, which are completely essential to life, just as much so as is breathing and eating.

I got a call from the sleep center that they had a cancellation and were offering the slot to me.  I have a general rule to take opportunities when they come along.  I checked in at 9:30 PM.  I had wires and sensors put on my head, neck, chest and arms. My breathing, body position and many other variables were read.  The sleep center has a camera and microphone that can pick up sights and sounds while I sleep. They have a trained watcher in attendance all night.  Two sleepers are assigned per watcher and four sleepers were accommodated last night.

I had a great night's sleep and am looking forward to an appointment where they tell me my fortune. 

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