Finding dreamland

Ah, sleep. It’s for the weak. Know anybody who gets a full eight hours every day? I sure don’t.

Ah, sleep. It’s for the weak. Know anybody who gets a full eight hours every day? I sure don’t.

Our modern culture is increasingly becoming an insomniac one. Our workload is piled on heavier and heavier by our jobs and classes. We stare at computer monitors and TV screens before we go to sleep, lowering our melatonin secretion levels, which controls when and how long you sleep.

Energy drinks scream their ability to keep you awake and going for longer, and every business from restaurants to grocery stores to Home Depot advertises 24-hour availability. You don’t need to sleep anymore in this day and age! Seriously! We’ve got you covered!

And yet, more and more research shows that not getting enough sleep can be… well, deadly. Reuters reported last Monday that a 17-year study of 10,000 British government workers “showed those who cut their sleeping from seven hours a night to five or less faced a 1.7-fold increased risk in mortality from all causes and more than double the risk of cardiovascular death.” Cardiovascular disease, by the way, is the number one cause of death in the country.

Studies also show that sleep deprivation affects tens of millions of adults in the United States alone, and it starts early. One in four American high school students say they fall asleep in class at least once a week.

So yeah, this ain’t good. Sleep deprivation is also significantly linked with a higher rate of diabetes, decreased brain function, weight loss/gain and literally dozens of other fun things including fainting, hernia, dizziness and a weakened immune system.

So why aren’t we getting enough sleep? Medications and health complications account for much of the issue, but our lifestyle choices are obviously huge. And as strange as it is to think about, our culture radically pushes us to get less sleep. More and more services are available to us around the clock and the Internet connects us 24 hours a day.

We can do some things. Some school districts in the country have set classes an hour back so students can get more sleep. The University of Minnesota found that students who went to school at 7:15 a.m. got considerably less sleep and lower grades than students who went to school at 8:40 a.m. So we as college students can set our classes a bit later, and administration could do its part by making more classes later in the day.

But none of that changes the fact that a globalized, decentralized and connected society has leveled off an unprecedented amount of barriers. Art, information, jobs and services have all become more open, less structured and more accessible, allowing us more fluidity and flexibility with our life choices. And this has, strangely enough, corresponded to our sleep cycle. As long as you can tough it out, you can sleep whenever you want and for as little as you want (and you can, can’t you? Are you some kind of pussy?).

Except our bodies won’t, and don’t, respond in kind. While it becomes harder and harder for a healthy and regular sleep cycle to jive with the demands of our lives, it’s worth our while to make room for that seven to eight hours a night. Other, more immediate symptoms of sleep deprivation include irritability, hypertension and impatience. In addition to taking care of our long-term health, our aching bodies tell a core truth we’d do well to listen to: Give in to the Sandman. Getting a full night’s sleep just makes you feel better.