Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Lil' Sleep

Lots of little sleeps.

As we drove from Peterborough to our AirBnB reservation, the September darkness was already well established over the small highway. I'd forgotten just how dark a rural road could be. The darkness on an unknown route only heightened my anxiety that we would be arriving late. The latest check-in time was set at 9:00 PM but by Google's ever-knowing, all-seeing wisdom, our arrival would be closer to 9:15 PM. Still, fifteen minutes didn't seem such a great sin. When we did arrive as the GPS had predicted, we were worried that the host had left as all of the lights in the house were off. We knocked on the door and checked our phones by the light of the motion-sensitive porch light. It was roughly 9:20 PM when the host appeared at the door, clearly in some annoyance and apparently having just got up out of bed. "I had a headache and you guys were late so I couldn't wait anymore and went to bed." she said with hand held to furrowed brown and a head full of pillow brushed hair.

"My god." I thought to myself, "she went to bed just after 9 PM and fell deeply asleep in less than fifteen minutes?" I was more shocked that an adult would go to bed at 9 PM than anything else I may have been worried about. I mean, it wouldn't be odd for me to nod off if I were watching television at 9 at night, but upon awaking I wouldn't get up and go to bed because… well, I just awoke from a nap. 10 PM is my witching hour. It's when my mind awakens, when the creative juices start flowing. Yet, society says go to bed and science says you need about eight hours of continuous sleep. Enter pandemic.

Over the last two years I've struggled more and more with a healthy sleep schedule. I became used to going to bed at 12:30, getting up at 8AM. Slowing, 12:30 became 1 AM and getting up at 8:30, but when I started getting into bed by 2AM, I knew I had to make a change.

It takes me 2 hrs just to wind down and get into bed and apparently my bedtime procrastination knows no bounds. Lately, I've begun to wonder, are the scientists right? This idea of 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep is a recommendation for a wide population. Results, as they say, may vary. I don't question we do need a certain amount of uninterrupted sleep but I kind of feel like I do get enough sleep, if not exactly in the order science (or society) says I should.

I love me a nap. Some days I feel I could nap any time, any place. Give me 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes — hell, give me 8 minutes, and I will nap the crap out of those 8 minutes. For years I've read of some historian making "an astounding discovery" that in pre-industrial societies we divided our sleep in two. I'm not sure why every time one of these articles is published, they make it sound like finding oxygen on Mars. We used to sleep differently. Is it that surprising? Apparently, in the 1500s, we know from various records that people would often have a "first sleep" that may have gone from 10 PM to midnight or in the winter from 9 PM to 11 PM. After that first sleep, they would get up and do something (small chores, read, write letters, meet friends for drinks, have sex, gamble, tell tales, commit crimes… sounds like a good time) then go back to bed around 1 or 2 AM, to wake at sunrise. This is known as biphasic sleep. Once clocks and time pieces were invented and more cheaply made light sources became available (candles were expensive, but fuels for lamps became cheaper and more readily available) this practice slowly died out. By the industrial revolution, the idea of going to bed for one long sleep became more practical. No one really knows why we did this but I think maybe we're over thinking it a bit. If it got dark and candles were sort of precious, you might just not feel like doing anything other than going to bed. If you went to bed early, you might wake up after a few hours and not get back to sleep so why not just get up? Not to mention, you might be sleeping on a sack of hay, full of bugs, or worse, just a dirt floor. If you sleep on a pile of bug-filled hay, you may not really be comfortable enough to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. By 1 or 2 AM, you may just be overwhelmed by sleep and have to go back to sleep. In a few hours, the sun would be up and so would you and everyone else.

If you lie down for a couple of hours, then get up and meet friends for a few hours and then go back to bed, we now call that a "disco nap". Nothing happens at the clubs before midnight so a lot of people will sneak in a nap before going out so they can last until 2 AM, when they can go home and sleep again. For my entire life, I've heard you need 8 hours of sleep or you will die. Yet, for my entire life, I've known if I sleep for 8 hours or more, I will wake up feeling hungover with a nagging headache for the rest of the day. 6-½ or 7 hours is my sweet spot. In a pinch, 6 hours is good, especially if I can get a nap in somewhere.

Since the global tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic has been upon us, I've had the good fortune to work from home and perfect my napping technique (see my 8 minute nap record). In the last couple of years, I've also experimented with CBD and THC oils, edibles, concentrates and beverages and found the right amount allows me to sleep soundly without any noticeable side effects and wake feeling rested. Since this autumn though, I've noticed I don't need that afternoon nap, but by 9 PM or 9:30 PM I nod off for almost an hour. I then wake up and realize I should go to bed, but decide I could do that after just watching some TV program or another, or ink a comic or write a blog post and I wind up not hitting the bed until 1 AM and getting up around 8 or 8:30 AM. It's like I'm living the 16th century dream, albeit with electricity, indoor plumbing and the Internet. Thank the pandemic for eliminating any notion of commuting so I can wake up late, wash, eat and sit at my desk to join a meeting by 10 AM. If I have to, I've even been known to start at 9 or 9:30 AM. This is all to say that, somehow, I think I turned my naps into little sleeps. A first brief sleep followed by a second longer sleep.

First sleep, second sleep and maybe a lil' sleep somewhere in between. I'm here to tell you, I feel fine. I'm not here to tell you how you should sleep, but I just may rethink listening to what studies of large data sets can tell you about your personal experience. You do you.



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