Monday, March 11, 2013

Wake Up Call


Sleep is a weird and wonderful thing. All these centuries of poking around in brains, human and otherwise, and no one really understands how it works, beginning with why we do it at all. Where’s the evolutionary advantage to dozing? If you’re a zebra trying to avoid becoming the evening entrĂ©e for a lion party of five, wouldn’t it make more sense to stay awake around the clock?

Could it just be that it feels good? Especially naps. The kind where you hunker under a warm, fuzzy blanket on cold gray day and drift off with a book propped open on your chest. Naps are a gift from the Almighty, and a large part of the reason I’ve been known to include ‘sleeping’ when asked to name my favorite forms of recreation.

All that aside, the need to sleep is mostly inconvenient, especially if you’re on the endangered species list. That ill-fated zebra, for example, or a college senior who put off starting a twenty-two page thesis proposal until nine o’clock the night before it’s due (not that I would know from personal experience).  Or a columnist who’s desperately plunking out words in the wee hours before a deadline (also not from personal experience, of course).

By the way, you can always pick these people out of a crowd. Look for the telltale checkerboard pattern on their forehead from passing out face down in the keyboard, which may or may not be why I’m sporting bangs these days.

Think about it, though. How strange is it that we crawl into bed at a specified time, close our eyes and expect our brains to shift into idle? How exactly does that work, anyway? Is it like a dimmer switch, turning down the voltage? Is the power we save while in sleep mode stored up in tiny little batteries in our neurons? Is that why we wake up feeling recharged?

Except when we really need to. That’s the trouble with sleep. You can’t count on it in a pinch. When your job is stressing you out and your brain is drained right down to the last quart, when what you need more than anything is a solid eight hours, sleep is that fickle friend who flounces off to hang out with people who aren’t so tense. Which leaves you even more tired, which makes you even more tense, and after three or four consecutive nights of chasing it around the bedroom while cursing its very existence, sleep won’t even make eye contact let alone snuggle with you.

As you can tell, I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this subject lately, most of it between the hours of one and four a.m. This is not conductive to optimal performance on either a job or parental level. If you have any doubt, ask my kid, assuming I can remember where I put him. Which isn’t entirely my fault. Studies show sleep deprivation affects mental acuity more than alcohol. A week of short rest and there goes your memory, concentration and coordination. And other stuff, too, which I would explain except I’m really, really tired and my phone is ringing.

Oops. Is it that time already? Guess I lost track. I suppose that’s the school calling again, wondering if I plan to leave the kid overnight. Well, they’ll have to hang on a few minutes longer. First I need to find my keys. Then I have to remember where I parked my car.

Or maybe I’ll just take a nap.  



Cynthia D'Alba said...

Funny you should pick this subject. I wrote one on the effects of lack of sleep for my next post over on ENALR!

And yeah, I wouldn't know anything about waiting until the last moment to write a paper in college...or staying up all night to study for a test in a course that you never went to class for!

Beth Caldwell said...

Excellent column! Although I think you were spying on me. LOL I can relate!

Linda G. said...

Ugh. I hate when my brain won't STFU and let me sleep. Hope you get some good zzzz soon!

Joelle said...

I am not a napper, but you caught me when I was feeling really sleepy, so after reading, I went and took a 3 hour nap!