Chasing golden slumbers

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 29 Aug 2023

Do you get a good night’s sleep, or are you one of many who suffers from insufficient sleep? If you are, join us in chasing those golden slumbers.

Everyone struggles to fall asleep on occasion: “Me thought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more,’” but Macbeth had good reason not to sleep. So do we.

It’s a troubling world we live in, wrought with anxieties and insecurities. We are stressed with concerns about work, school, health, finances, family, relationships, all of which may give us trouble falling asleep.

Insufficient sleep is a prevalent daily battle across various age groups. It is a modern condition to fit our modern lifestyle, which gets in the way of a restful sleep.

“We evolved in a rotating planet,” says author Linda Geddes, in an article in The Guardian, “with regular patterns of light and dark exposure and our biology is set up to work in this cycle.”

For most human history we sleep at night and are active during the day. “Our kidneys produce less urine, our temperature is lower; our immune systems are less capable of fighting foreign invaders at night.”

The opposite occurs during the day. “Our blood pressure rises, hunger hormones kick in and our brains shift into a higher gear.”

These daily fluctuations in our body are called circadian rhythms and they dictate when we feel sleepy.

Since 1879, when Thomas Edison flicked a light switch, our relationship with night and day changed forever. Matters got worse when our systems had to deal with Daylight Saving Time, adding to our sleeplessness by forcing a change in the timing of our body clocks.

To aggravate the condition, we welcomed the Digital Age, which undermined our relationship with night even further. Light extended our days, but diminished our nights. Light is the enemy of sleep. Our 24-hour world is flooded with light. Is it any wonder sleep eludes us?

Studies claim that sleeplessness in developed countries reached 30 per cent of the population, while in some underdeveloped countries it remains at 1.5-3 per cent. The myriad big city lights, TVs, smartphones, and other electric devices drown the desire to sleep. Exposure to light at night makes us more owlish. Light has a direct alerting effect on the brain; no wonder we find it harder to go to sleep.

That is not good news since the lack of sleep is taxing to body and mind.

Insufficient sleep leads to the derailment of bodily systems, resulting in an increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases, increased chances of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, depression, mental dysfunctions, loss of cognitive functions and a host of other mishaps such as car or house accidents.

How we yearn for that 7-8 hours of heavenly sleep each night, in this mad, mad world we live in.

An Australian study of adults, ages 18-65 years, found sleeplessness is more common among cigarette smokers and those who consume high levels of alcoholic beverages.

A recent study of 20,000 patients in the Netherlands concluded that 27.3 per cent suffer from insomnia — 21.2 per cent males and 33.2 per cent females. Ladies are more sensitive to environmental conditions.

Is it a disease? The US Center for Disease Control describes sleep deprivation as a “public health epidemic”, linked to a wide range of medical issues, such as depression, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. Such ominous findings are not to be scoffed at. They are alarming, leading us to hurry and find solutions for tossing and turning in our beds when we should be happily drifting away to Lalaland.

“To sleep, perchance to dream” is our goal and there are certain steps we can take to achieve our goal.

It is imperative to stick to a sleep schedule. Keep your bedtime-wake time consistent from day to day, even on weekends. Stay active; avoid naps by day, caffeine by night; avoid large meals, alcohol, before bedtime. A hot shower helps, so does a cool, dark bedroom.

Above all, take a blue light break. Blue light has the highest energy level of any light on the visible light spectrum. You get blue light from the screens on your phone, TV and computer.

An old but true sleeping aid is reading in bed. Read a fun fiction book, a boring history book or a magazine article, nothing disturbing that will keep your mind alert.

Herbal teas such as chamomile or lavender are relaxing. Get rid of an old, uncomfortable pillow. Be comfortable as you try to pull down the curtain on a long tiresome day.

If nothing works, try melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone which helps regulate your body’s circadian rhythm.

Do not settle for a sleepless life. Change your lifestyle; seek the help of a physician; get the benefits of a good night’s sleep, for they are many.

You get sick less often, you stay at a healthy weight; your risk for serious diseases is lowered. Stress, our modern enemy, is kept at bay. You do better at work or school. You can think more clearly and you are in a better mood. All in all you are more fun to be around.

“Sleep affects every tissue in your body,” says Merill Mitler of the US National Health Institute. “The fact is when you look at well rested people, they are operating at a different level than people trying to get by on less nightly sleep”. Be one of those.

Here’s to a healthy lifestyle and a good night’s sleep.

“He giveth his beloved sleep.”

 The Bible, Psalms 127:2


* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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