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Monday, April 30, 2012


Wow!  The last day for the A to Z Challenge is here.  I checked my dictionary to find words and topics for the letter Z.  I finally decided to use the universal symbol for sleep—ZZZZZ.

As babies, we sleep almost twenty four hours a day.  We awaken briefly for physical needs, eating and other bodily functions, but otherwise, we require a tremendous amount of sleep.  It is so rare that we see a newborn baby’s eyes open, that we announce it to anyone within earshot, “Hey, come here! Zoe’s got her eyes open!  Look!  Isn’t she beautiful?”

Gradually, babies are awake more and more and for longer periods.  Before we know it, we are hoping they will fall asleep and sleep all night, so we can get some rest, too.  Mom’s walk around like zombies, big dark circles under their eyes, and move slowly.  Fatigue drains everyone’s energy.

When children start school, it becomes a nightly battle to get them to bed early, especially in the early fall, after a long summer of staying up late at baseball games, camp-outs, and other summer activities.  Once the new bedtime routine is established, most kids are ready for bed at the designated time.  Then is when Mom and Dad enjoy a few moments of alone time together before they, too, hit the sack.

Teenagers go through a phase where their sleep routine is off kilter.  They stay up late, and want to sleep late.  Without motivation, some teens will sleep well past noon, and want to stay up past midnight.  Once they get jobs and are responsible adults, they are more content with normal sleep routines.

If Mom or Dad work the “graveyard shift” catching a few ZZZZs becomes even more important.  Working night shifts disrupts the normal circadian cycle of human sleep.  It is not normal for humans to stay up all night and sleep all day.  We are not, normally, nocturnal creatures.  And society does not always allow for nocturnal work.  Receiving a waking phone call from a telemarketer or political action committee wanting donations, does not endear the caller to the victim of the phone call, who must then try to fall asleep and get some decent undisturbed rest.  These people must often turn off the ringer on their phones and hang “Do Not Disturb” signs on their front door in order to eliminate the distractions.

As we grow older, we seem to need more sleep again, but the urge to close our eyes comes at odd times.  Mid mornings, mid afternoons, and early evenings are frequent calling cards for Mr. Sandman.  And if we can’t sleep because we are at work or driving, it can even become dangerous.

At the nursing home, the residents nap after meals, and are often ready for bed by seven or eight o’clock.  ZZZs are frequent and do not normally last more than a couple of hours.

Sleep deprivation affects our entire body and all of it’s functions.  Mental acuity drops significantly if insufficient rest is obtained. Digestive function is affected, and night workers often feel as though they have a “flu bug.”  Heartburn and gastric upsets are common. Lack of sleep can cause respiratory problems as well, with frequent bouts of bronchitis, colds, and pneumonia.

Those with chronic disease are often afflicted with sleep deprivation.  Arthritis, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and those afflicted with hiatal hernias and esophageal reflux disease may find it more comfortable to sleep in a recliner rather than bed.  Spouses of sleep apnea victims may report that neither spouse gets the sleep they need.  Snoring and sudden respiratory lapses cause great concern to those listening to the irregular respiratory patterns.

Pain is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation.  The distractions of daily living can help keep pain at bay, or at least help make it more bearable.  But trying to sleep in pain is almost impossible.  Without distractions, pain rises to the forefront and will not be ignored, without medication or other pain relief methods.

Dreams can also interrupt deep sleep, especially nightmares.  Sleep occurs in layers.  Some sleep is deep, in which there are no dreams.  Light sleepers often do not get proper rest, because the slightest noise or movements will wake them. The deep sleepers usually feel more rested because there is not the interruption in their sleep.

Another factor in sleep is a condition called tinnitus.  This is the name for a ringing sound heard in the sleeper’s ears.  Sometimes this is caused by certain medications.  But it can be very distracting, to the point of causing hearing loss during the day when it becomes louder than the outside noises.  A doctor should be consulted to find a treatment for tinnitus.  Keeping a fan or tv on will also cause the tinnitus to be less distractive.

So, as you can see, the body needs a lot of good, uninterrupted, deep sleep to be at the best functioning level.   Any alterations of the sleep pattern can result in sluggish behavior, fatigue, and even exacerbations of illnesses.  If you stay up late to watch that favorite movie, and sleep in late in the morning, you will start a habit that will create many problems with health.

Many doctors recommend a brief nap in the afternoon for most adults.  This can be difficult, if your work prevents a break at that time.  On the other hand, if you start a habit of taking a nap, it can be difficult to stay awake during the days when you are working.

All this talk about sleeping has made me drowsy.  I think I’ll go take a nap.  Have a nice day, and get plenty of rest, now, y’hear?


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