Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Good Night’s Sleep Isn’t a Luxury; It’s a Necessity


In my younger years, I regarded sleep as a necessary evil, nature’s way of thwarting my desire to cram as many activities into a 24-hour day as possible. I frequently flew the red-eye from California, for instance, sailing (or so I thought) through the next day on less than four hours of uncomfortable sleep.

But my neglect was costing me in ways that I did not fully appreciate. My husband called our nights at the ballet and theater “Jane’s most expensive naps.” Eventually we relinquished our subscriptions. Driving, too, was dicey: twice I fell asleep at the wheel, narrowly avoiding disaster. I realize now that I was living in a state of chronic sleep deprivation.

I don’t want to nod off during cultural events, and I no longer have my husband to spell me at the wheel. I also don’t want to compromise my ability to think and react. As research cited recently in this newspaper’s magazine found, “The sleep-deprived among us are lousy judges of our own sleep needs. We are not nearly as sharp as we think we are.”

Studies have shown that people function best after seven to eight hours of sleep, so I now aim for a solid seven hours, the amount associated with the lowest mortality rate. Yet on most nights something seems to interfere, keeping me up later than my intended lights-out at 10 p.m. — an essential household task, an e-mail requiring an urgent and thoughtful response, a condolence letter I never found time to write during the day, a long article that I must read.
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