By Katie East
Forget Mars and the Great Barrier Reef, there are enigmas much closer to home that we all struggle to understand every day. Sleep is one of those elusive mysteries that seems to affect everyone. Whether the lack of it has you exhausted, or you’re spending too much of your time in bed, figuring out the fine line of rest can take a lifetime for most people.
Sleep is an elusive mistress. Anytime I see a friend or coworker who says they only got a few hours of sleep I immediately feel empathy for them. New parents? You deserve a medal.
I don’t think you can technically be considered a person when you’ve gotten less than five hours of sleep for more than two nights in a row. You just turn into this empty shell of a person who’s trying to make decisions, pretend to be normal and is one second away from a mental breakdown.
I, luckily, am a good sleeper. Now there are those rare occasions where I toss and turn thinking about a big event the next day or an impending flight I’m afraid to miss. On an average night, though, I sleep well. And for as long as I can remember, I could nap at the drop of a hat.
Napping is probably one of my best skills. I get my napping genes from my Dad’s side of the family. My mother can probably count on one hand how many times she’s been able to take a nap in the last five years. I, on the other hand, nap at least three times a week.
In fact, I’m so good at falling asleep, I can do it anywhere. I can nap in a house, I can nap with a mouse, I can nap here or there, I can nap anywhere!
Dr. Seuss references aside, I can really fall asleep anywhere and have spent most of my life being tired. In high school, I fell asleep in most classes every single day. My Mom has almost an entire photo album dedicated to all of the odd, and beautiful, places I fell asleep at in Europe. And when I lived in New York I would fall asleep several times a day on the subway and had mastered the art of sleeping while standing. Once, I fell asleep standing up in my boss’ office and hit my head on the corner of her filing cabinet.
That wasn’t the only narcoleptic injury I received. When I was 16 and had my driver’s license for only a month, I fell asleep driving and got in a horrible car accident. I didn’t admit it at the time, but I would fall asleep driving at least once a day and still struggle with that from time to time now.
Besides being the general butt of jokes and winning “Most likely to fall asleep in class,” no one seemed to do much about my exhaustion despite how dangerous and miserable it was. Clearly, something was very wrong with me but “Try to get eight hours of sleep” was about the only advice I received from doctors.
Your sleep patterns can tell you a lot about what’s going on in your body. Honestly, after years of trying to figure it out, I’m convinced my sleepiness comes from food allergies and just general lack of nutrition and hydration.
The funny thing about sleep is it’s unlike any of the other necessities that your body needs to function; You can’t trust yourself to gauge how much you need. When you’re hungry, you eat until you’re full. When you’re thirsty, you drink until your thirst is quenched. When you’re tired, you could sleep for 12 hours and then seriously screw up your entire schedule for a week.
The “eight hour” sleep rule I was handed as a child didn’t work for me. I consistently slept eight hours every night and always needed more. Thus, one would think I needed more sleep. Nope. Now, I know I should never get more than seven hours of sleep unless I’m catching up. On those off days when I accidentally sleep through an alarm and wake up 10 hours later, I spend the day drowsy and always fall asleep later in the day.
As much as I pay attention to what my body is trying to tell me, it’s very hard to hear the clues my sleep patterns are trying to give. Whether you can’t sleep enough or always sleep too much, it’s something most Americans struggle within our high-stress low sleep society.
Sleep is a fickle lady, and we must learn to respect her. Being tired shouldn’t be something we force people to power through. Smart companies like Google respect the fact that lack of sleep means lack of productivity for their business; they’ve taken measures to help employees take back being tired.
Why do companies want workers who are running on fumes anyway? Coffee is just a band-aid to keep people going. Flexible start hours should be a given in this country. And while we’re at it, I wouldn’t mind adopting the European tradition of a daily siesta or a Japanese-style napping pod in every office. Ok fine, I’ll settle for a kindergarten mat under every desk.