Random Thoughts / A too-early-for-bedtime story
Once again, I am staying up past my bedtime. Ever since I was a little kid, when I read under the covers with a flashlight after I was supposed to be asleep, I have hated going to bed. I have functioned quite well on my six hours a night, so I believed that I was one of those people who don't need a lot of sleep. In fact, it has been a point of pride for me that I don't waste a lot of time in a somnolent state.
It has been a matter of pride for a lot of us to brag about how little sleep we get. Some of us feel that our lack of sleep implies that we are so busy we have little time to spare for the shut-eye that most people need. Others believe that our ability to get by on five or six hours of sleep a night allows us to be far more productive than ordinary people. Whatever the explanation, clearly we low-sleepers are better than the average eight-hour-a-night sloths.
Then along came the research that tells us all sorts of things about the importance of sleep. The research says that getting eight hours a night is good for our weight, our memory, our immune systems and many more physical and psychological factors. Getting less sleep isn't good for anything.
Contrary to popular belief, we don't build up a tolerance for the sleep deprivation either. Nor are there people who don't need much sleep. It isn't good for any of us.
We can't even make up for our fatigue by sleeping a little late on Sundays, according to the experts. Everything I used to think about sleep has been proved to be wrong. Staying up late and getting up early isn't making me virtuous and productive, it's making me fat and forgetful.
If I still had some doubts about the benefits of those eight hours of sleep,
I was finally convinced by an article I recently read. I believed that very successful people at least were not dozing on the job, but in this article many famous achievers divulged that they get eight or more hours of sleep each night.
I am convinced that I need to change my snoozing ways. I have been fooling myself, perhaps, by thinking that I am perfectly fine on my five or six hours a night. The fact that I drag myself out of bed in the morning and that I sometimes fall asleep in front of the TV at night ought to have been a clue.
However, when I do the calculations about what changes would be required for me to get eight hours of sleep each night I have second thoughts. No ten o'clock TV shows; no before bed bath. I'm not ready to sacrifice everything just for a little health and well-being. Eight hours a night would be too drastic a change. Just ask my husband, who calls me Ms. Moderate, sudden drastic changes don't work for me. Besides, I haven't quite given up the idea that I'm a person who doesn't need as much sleep as others do. My new goal is seven hours a night.
I'm having a lot of trouble even meeting that goal. When ten o'clock rolls around, I tell myself to go up to bed with my husband. (He's even worse about sleep than I am, but at least he dozes off fairly early.) But there are dishes to do, TV shows to watch, baths to take, papers to grade, columns to write, books to read. I don't want to go to bed.
For me, late-night time has always been a special time. When I had a house full of kids, it was the only time that belonged to the grown-ups. My husband and I could be together without anyone asking for help with homework and without refereeing any fights.
After my husband went to sleep, it was my time alone. I could choose the TV show and watch without questions or interruptions.
I could read my book, or take a bath, or clean out a cupboard. I treasured that time, with the house quiet and peaceful, and my loved ones resting upstairs.
I still love the feeling of freedom I get being the only one awake at night. But how free can I feel now, when I'm having guilt about all the harm I'm doing to myself by keeping myself up.
Maybe I ought to just forget about the research.
I've made it this far without enough sleep. And by next month all those experts might be telling us entirely different things about how much sleep we need to get.
Carol Randel shares her "Random Thoughts" every other Friday.