“Up All Night,” Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, 3/11/2013
For starters, sleep is not just a problem with seniors. More than half the population between the ages of 13 and 64 (not us) experience a sleep problem almost every night. That’s a lot of people who at least think they have a problem. And 1500 deaths each year are attributed to driving while drowsy. No doubt many of those deaths are innocent other drivers and not just the drowsy ones. Something to think about.
In another finding, if you want to sleep sounder at night, sleep alone, preferably in a separate room. Tested couples often thought they slept better when they slept together, but their brain waves told otherwise. When sleeping alone, they averaged 30 minutes a night more in the deep stages of sleep. This surprised me because my wife and I still sleep in what is called a “full size” bed, which is now considered pretty small and unusual for two people. The bumps, movement, and sounds coming from her are comforting rather than disturbing, a gentle conformation that everything is right with the world.
One researcher interviewed all sorts of people involved in sleep studies and concluded that “what we have come to think of as sleep problems are mostly just problems in the way we have come to think about sleep,” which is what I was trying to say in my previous posting but not as succinctly.
Some blame sleep problems on our lifestyle. A quoted author pointed out that most of us are either “larks” who wake up bright and chipper in the morning but begin to fade by dinnertime, or “owls” who thrive late at night when the larks have long gone to bed. Society’s work schedules clearly favor the larks. We all know that, but he pointed out that we typically change throughout our lives. Most children begin as larks, then become owls in their teenage years. As we age, many of us change back to larks again.
In 2002, researchers found that lab rats totally deprived of sleep would drop dead after two or three weeks, but the cause of death could not be determined. Obviously, sleep is vital to life in one way or another. We all spend so much time sleeping, they said, “If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made.”
The author of the New Yorker article went to a sleep disorder center to experience for herself what they do. She reported in at 8 PM and was told to change into her pajamas in the bathroom because everything in the bedroom would be videotaped. She then got wired up with 12 sensors on her head and upper body, rubber tubes in her mouth and nose, two belts on her waist, and an oxygen sensor clipped to her index finger. The technician plugged all of the wires into a console, turned out the light, and wished her a good night. Sleep seemed impossible, but later analysis showed she slept 4 hours.
The analysis showed she actually fell asleep within ten minutes of lights-out, but woke up after just about a minute. Throughout the night, her sleep was interrupted by many brief periods of wakefulness for a total of 143 times. The waking intervals were often as short as 15 seconds. She even stopped breathing 8 times.
All of this was considered fairly normal. They simply suggested that she not go to bed until she was sure she was tired, get up and go to another room when she couldn’t sleep, and eliminate alcohol before turning in.