Sleep is the new aerobics. Used to be you never heard much about the importance of sleep; you were either one of those people who got enough and never gave it any thought, or you were one of those people who couldn’t fall asleep and complained about it all the time. The dividing line seemed, then, to be caffeine consumption.
Now, you can’t read anything about healthy living without reading about sleep. Not just how much, but the quality of it. Last week, there came the news that women fighting breast cancer should sleep in a room so totally dark that even little blinking lights on cell phones should be blanketed. Now, there’s word out of Australia that says new mothers are so sleep-deprived in their babies’ first three months that the physical consequences should be considered “medically significant.”
This explains a lot. When my daughter was new, neither one of us slept much those first four months. She and I rarely strung two hours of sleep together during the night. I went from an energetic, reasonably coherent and cute woman of 40 to a puffy, grouchy wad of flannel. I gained 15 pounds, (something the doctors now say is linked to sleep deprivation), and the gray hairs took over.
At the time, I didn’t blame the loss of sleep; I was too exhausted to think clearly enough to make the connection. But I should have figured it out. All my life I was an excellent sleeper, able to fall asleep pretty much anywhere at any time, including during long viewings in college film class and on the streetcar coming home from working the night shift at a radio station. A double shot of espresso at 9:30 p.m. did not delay the arrival of the Sandman. And napping? Epic. No 20-minute bits of shuteye on the sofa for me. I’d check out for two hours when I could, in bed, with the covers pulled up.
Now they’re telling me that’s too much napping, that I should save the good sleep for the night.
Next thing I know, they’ll be coming for my fan.
I can’t sleep very well without some white noise. My bedroom is utterly white with noise: an overhead fan whose metal blades are just unbalanced enough to create a nice, silvery sound, and a small table fan humming away. Others call it a loud racket, but it’s silence that keeps me awake.
Lately, when I’ve found myself in a hotel or a guest room, I miss my white noise. I guess that’s why they call that sleeping pill Ambien: it works like the ambience of a nice background hum.
After years of hammering us about exercise, the medical community has moved on to a new cause – and it’s in our beds. The state of the science now says we need seven hours of sleep – not eight and not six. Doctors want most of that to be REM sleep, which is the deep kind when you dream. They want total darkness, a cool room temperature, and no snoring. Oh, and to prevent wrinkles, sleep on your back.
Pretty soon they’ll be saying naps cause wrinkles, too, or worse. I wonder what they’ll say about my fans?
I’m sure there’s a study under way on that right now. I don’t want to know. I’m covering my ears with a pillow.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at email@example.com.