Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Is 7:30 too early for bed?

A friend asked this question the other day.  I think the answer, as with many questions, is "Depends".  I have listened to "The Science of Science of Sleep" by Prof. Craig Heller of Stanford U., a Great Course. I have slept with a small sleep computer strapped to my wrist.  On a separate night, I have slept overnight at the sleep center in the local hospital.  I have worn a pair of specially made mouthpieces to thrust my lower jaw forward, leaving more room for my breath through my nose and unobstructed down the back of my throat.  I have been diagnosed with "upper airway resistance" but not with any sleep apnea.  That is about 100% of my sleep credentials, except for sleeping every night for decades and decades, the better part of a century.

Sometimes I have an extra challenging day.  I don't always know how much of what will be a challenge.  But there are times in the evening, when I seem to be zonked, rendered pretty much useless for any activity other than getting into bed.  Maybe extra hours of driving or passengering in the car.  Maybe double the usual 2.5 walking distance or weight lifting added to walking.  Maybe shopping or yard work.


After 7 PM, I usually watch tv or read aloud to Lynn.  If I try to read silently, I fall asleep but if I use the computer or watch television, I don't.  Of course, how I will be in ten years, I don't know.  But, if I try to watch tv, and I do fall asleep, or more indicatively, I find tears of fatigue flowing down my cheeks, I usually decide it is bedtime.  When I suffered bad bouts of debilitating pain from diverticulitis or when I find I have a fever and am sick, I go to bed.  I don't raise the nerdy objection, "What if I wake up at 4 AM?"  When I am zonked with fatigue or with anything else, I won't wake up at 4.  If I do, I will do what I am good at: go back to sleep.

I read a couple of times, that if I fall asleep in 10 minutes or less, I may not be getting enough sleep.  15 or 20 minutes of lying still and staying relaxed (and happy and snuggly or whatever is a good sleep attitude) is about right.  

One of the more helpful books I have read about sleeping and other head states is "The Head Trip" by Jeff Warren. He and other authors and scientists emphasize that we are still animals, tuned to sunrise and sunset.  In northern latitudes during the winter, daylight can be nine hours.  In summer, it can be nearly twice that.  Most humans, for most of their lifetimes, do well on about eight hours of sleep.  But the big thing for us is the electric light bulb, which allows us to transform any time into awake-time.  Warren and others emphasize that for the thousands and thousands of years before steady, available bright light, people often got up after 4 hours or so, stayed awake for an hour or so, and went back to bed.  

Measuring sleep hours and minutes very closely strikes me as a mistake.  My head, my body and my mind don't work by the minute or the second.  So, 7:30?  If I can't find anything else to do, I may get into bed at any time.  I want to try for 7 ½ or 8 hours of sleep most night but if I am zonked, if I can feel a strong draw, I may stay in bed for a whole day if need be.  If I seem to be getting in a bad habit, I may have to run in place or do yoga or ride a stationery bike or something physical.  Getting into a wrong habit often seems to be connected to too little exercise.

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