The Curiosity of Sleep
By Justin Isherwood
Something weird about sleep. The average person lives 72-78 years (male/female) on average 8760/9490 days sleeping. Some resent this. Some do not.
To confess I have never been a “sleeper.” The world has too many monsters to sleep soundly. On my same genetic strand is my younger brother, who excelled at math, a straight- A kind, unlike me my brother slept like a rock. My brother once killed an alarm clock, an electric alarm clock, as could not wake him. Didn’t matter, I was already done with the morning chores. I like morning.
The world is divided, evenly or not, between those who sleep well and those who don’t. To wonder if Mother Nature and its survival equivalent is working out a behavioral optimum. Teenagers are notoriously “difficult sleepers.” Some academics question whether school hours may be at cross-purpose to the biological rhythm of teenagers. More so, modern teenagers are exposed to cell phone use, video screens, known as the “blue light exposure,” a wavelength thought to interfere with sleep onset. Expressed as brain restlessness, brain waves too active to settle readily into sleep. To the consequence sleep doesn’t come, as may sound familiar.
Most of us eventually learn to manage our sleep cycle, some never do, to add work place circumstance, shift work can compromise sleep. Law enforcement knows of this, hospital staff, production industry, paper mills, then there are truck drivers.
People have always addressed their sleep needs on an individual basis. What works for one person doesn’t fit another person’s schedule or mental process. Research shows that teenagers have and suffer a different melatonin release than either young children or adults. This chemistry thought to be hard-wired into most mammals. A life stage where sleep schedules are different from other points in human development. Denmark recently began compensating shift workers that develop breast cancer after mouse studies indicated a carcinogenic effect from long-term altered sleep.
Winston Churchill famously took a two hour power nap at 5 p.m., following his choice of a whisky and soda. A sleep pattern he famously boasted allowed him 1 ½ days of work in every 24 hours. Charles Darwin slept facing north, believing it improved his creativity, a magnetic compass on his bed table. Emily Bronte walked circles around the dining room table to put herself to sleep. Leonardo da Vinci did not sleep, at least not what we would call normal sleep. He faithful to polyphasic sleep known as the Uberman sleep cycle, 20 minute naps every four hours, about two hours of sleep per day. If the world cannot yet decide if the Mona Lisa is a woman or a man, we need to consider that Leonard’s sleep schedule left some edges fuzzy. Nikola Tesla followed the Leonardo method, two hours of sleep a day. President Kennedy split his work day into shifts. At 2 p.m. he went for exercise followed by a 30 minute nap, then work from 4 p.m. till 2 a.m. Johnson followed President Kennedy’s sleep pattern on becoming President, he said, “to get more done.”
Sleep remains a curiosity of nature, what physician Wilson Phillip in 1833 called “an imperfection of nature.” All that time wasted. Science is steadily revealing the contrary, that sleep is critical to mental health, emotional stability and body function. Most of us have been exposed to events and life episodes that interfere with sleep and we feel the corresponding impact. A condition we learn to manage, coffee, tea, caffeine have long been an integral part of the Industrial Revolution. One of the problems of aging is the subsequent sleep of those who are no longer physical, and can’t enjoy the rest of the mechanically tired.
We find our sleep schedules individually, an overlooked area of medicine and health that some espouse. Sleep apnea and its diagnosis has helped many whose sleep is interrupted by air passage collapse, critical in some cases. Understanding teenage sleep patterns could prove beneficial to their emotions as well as their academic performance. Shift work is an industrial component, what health regimes need to be investigated to ensure shift workers acclimatize to what is an unnatural sleep pattern? Some industries are adding nap space as part of the work site. College students already understand this. Will the work site nap be a future labor issue?
We are, on sleep, our own experimenters. To wonder if the social/industrial/education scale can allow for personal experimentation. Assembly lines with a nap room? The patrol car with a pillow? A bunk room for hospital staff? Just wondering.