To continue with this three-part series, let us take a minute to revisit my supposition from the last blog, humans in our “civilized” world are not living naturally. Again, it does not matter if you believe humans have been around a few hundred thousand years or God made us 6000 years ago, our human bodies were designed to live a certain way.
Also, for the sake of this discussion, we will look at the last 6K years in which humans lived. For 95% those years, humans lived the same when it came to our sleep habits; wake up at dawn and go to bed at dusk. Sure, there were full moons and then fire and candles to extend our being able to function after the sun went down, but those were limited.
Unfortunately, we tend to look at our past like Hollywood has shown us. Maybe kings had hundreds of candles available to party hearty late into the night, but no one else did. A fire allowed workers to ply their trade until dusk, and then be able to eat and visit for a while. Candles enabled us to have some “me” time in our corner or possibly our room.
But think more in-depth about this privilege. No one went down to the convenience store to get wood for a fire and for most of that time, people did not get candles at the store either; you chopped wood (and a couple of hundred others were competing with you for that wood if you lived in a town) and handmade the candles. If you are flipping a switch to turn on a light, or now, a fire, why not enjoy staying up late? Sure, we do have to pay for the electricity and gas, but even those are cheap by history’s standards.
If you were chopping wood for every fire you had and collecting oil or wax for every candle, we would, just like our ancestors, only use what we absolutely needed. When the wood or candles were gone, we would suffer as people did for most of antiquity. So what does this have to do with healthy living?
We need sleep! Like it or not, our bodies need about eight hours of sleep a night. Because we have read about or know folks that can get by on less, we tend to think we can too, when, in fact, we cannot. Bottom line, one relaxing weekend, sleep until you wake up refreshed! You now know how much rest you need each night, and whatever that amount is, work backward from when you need to get up; that is the time to go to bed.
I am not going to go into all the areas that are affected when we do not get enough sleep as it is an extensive list; we have all felt the early signs of too little sleep. Fatigue, listlessness, slow thinking, and being clumsy are only some lesser problems we will encounter. Heart disease, diabetes, psychosis, and bipolar disorder are the next readily observable issues of chronic sleep deprivation.
Regrettably, there is much more, much of it unseen until too late. Over those eight hours, the body repairs different areas to restore our systems. Just as you would not schedule three work activities at the same time, the body does not schedule significant repairs concurrently while we are asleep. When sleep is cut short, so is some repair; muscle repair, memory consolidation, cellular repair, and the release of hormones to regulate growth and appetite are just a few of the patches that can be disrupted by too little sleep.
We know children need eight to nine and a half hours of sleep, but teens almost as much. Perversely, their brain development also means they do not get sleepy until later! Any parent of a teen knows they can sleep until at least 10:00 AM if allowed! As usual, the school districts are still working on old information; elementary school needs to start at 7:30 as those children are awake earlier and high school should begin at 9:30 to accommodate a teen’s physiology!
And there is more! The quality of sleep is just as important as the quantity. Again, think about how humans have lived for thousands or millions of years. We worked during daylight, ate, relaxed and then went to bed. There was no television, computers, or other things competing for our attention. Worse, the blue light that is given off by TVs, iPads, etc. simulate daylight and makes the brain think it should still be active.
Do what our ancestors did and relax with a book, review the day, or actually talk with someone! Turn off all electronics, dim the lights, and give your body 30 – 60 minutes to adjust to going to bed. And while some folks can sleep with the television on, but they are a tiny minority. Finally, eat light at night to give your body one less thing it needs to do while you are asleep. If possible, grab a 20-minute nap after lunch, some call this a power nap. It will do wonders for your energy level! Oh, but you say, I don’t have any of those issues with my five hours of sleep and no nap!
Unfortunately, just like eating non-food items does not result in immediate obesity, losing an hour or two of sleep every night does not affect us significantly in the short term. The long-term effects are just as debilitating as poor eating. There is an old saying, “I’ll rest on the day I die.” Well, studies have shown that without adequate sleep, you will be “resting” much younger than those of us getting a full eight hours!
Just as eating sugar once in a while is “therapeutic” to a well-lived life, a night or two on the town until the early hours can be a reward for managing our work schedule. We need to live a mindful life that enhances our health overall!