Recently, I saw a couple of interesting articles that discussed the findings of two different medical studies. The first article had this headline: “Just 3 straight nights of poor sleep causes ‘great deterioration’ in mental, physical well-being.”
No kidding, Sherlock. They needed to conduct a medical study to find that out? I could’ve told them. And by the way, it really should be ONE straight night of poor sleep. Speaking for myself, one fitful night is bad enough, and if I suffer through three straight nights of poor sleep, “great deterioration” doesn’t even begin to describe my mental and physical well-being. “Total meltdown” is more like it.
The other article had this headline: “Teen sleep deprivation quickly leads to lethargy, anger, and depression.” Are they sure those behaviors are caused by sleep deprivation? The headline would not have been incorrect if it said, “Being a teenager leads to lethargy, anger, and depression.”
I don’t want to be critical of teenagers, but having been one recently (well, a few epochs ago), I remember all too well how moody and surly my friends and I were during those years. That’s what happens when you take a normal human body and subject it to hormone surges, growth spurts, powerful peer pressure, and sudden eruptions of facial hair (which happens to the boys, too).
If I remember correctly, when I slept only 4 or 5 hours at night as a teenager, the next day I was lethargic, angry, and depressed. But if I instead slept 8 or 10 hours at night, the next day I was lethargic, angry, and depressed.
The articles did not say how much money was spent conducting these studies, but I could’ve saved them a lot of dough. They could have published a brief document with the title, “Mom was right: go to bed!” Then the entire body of the report, rather than six pages of statistical analysis, could simply say, “And I’m not kidding, young man!”
Sleep is an amazing thing. Everybody does it. Which is why Steven Wright’s old joke still makes us laugh. “I woke up this morning and my friend said, ‘Did you sleep well?” I said, ‘No, I made a few mistakes.’”
We take sleep for granted and often don’t give it much thought, unless, of course, we don’t get enough of it. Then that’s all our brains think about. And when we are sleep deprived, our brains struggle to do anything quickly and accurately. I’m not sure of the exact medical description, but it seems to me when I’m lacking sleep, the usual electrical synapses in my brain get coated with a sticky substance, probably peanut butter, which really slows down the whole cognitive process. Or maybe that’s not the exact medical description. (Is it obvious that I’m staying up too late right now to type this essay? Yeah, I thought so.)
People do not take sleep for granted when they get into my age range. (To give you an idea of my age range, I’ve been receiving AARP junk mail for 14 years, which translates into 76 tons of paper for the recycle bin, plus one flimsy tote bag with a broken zipper for me.) We seniors know we need sleep, we enjoy sleep, and we set aside plenty of time to sleep. And then what happens? We wake up at 3 a.m. and stare at the ceiling until dawn.
It’s a very odd situation: teenagers can sleep for 8 hours straight, but don’t want to. And seniors want to sleep for 8 hours straight, but can’t. Just like a half-century ago, I’m once again lethargic, angry, and depressed. But at least I have a flimsy tote bag.