Sleep, Health, & Difficult Choices

Last week I read an article in The Guardian about a neuroscientist and his two decades of studying sleep. The salient points of the article (for me) include a drop of 70% in your cancer-fighting killer cells and a much greater risk of Alzheimer and Dementia for those who consistently get too little sleep. That, and the fact that the less you sleep on a consistent basis, the less capacity your brain has to perform the “scrubbing” operations it needs to in order to keep your brain clear of amyloid deposits. And you can’t ever get that capacity back. It just keeps getting worse.

Will science eventually figure out some way to scrub out those deposits and restore our “brain-cleaning” abilites? Maybe. I dare say that if they do though, it’ll come with trade-offs in the form of side effects that are potentially as harmful, which is how most medicine often ends up working. Thing is, they might not too, or maybe not in time for me personally to benefit from it.

In any case, better to prevent as many health problems as possible, rather than count on medical science to “save” us later, methinks.

I’ve been getting 4.5 hours of sleep per night for…well, several years, at least. According to the article, anything less than 7 hours is considered sleep-deprived, and your brain doesn’t even start that deep cleaning until you’re in the last part of the 4th consecutive sleep cycle (so, the end of 6 hours). 7.5 hours would be 5 sleep cycles, which is optimal for brain health, so the article suggests.

How much damage have I already done? Hard to say…but probably a lot. When I read the article, I decided I needed to take action immediately – as in, that very night.

It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out how to rearrange my evening and morning schedules so I could still have some writing time, and yet get 6 hours of sleep. Those of you who already sleep 6 or 8 hours are probably wondering why it’s so difficult, but both my mornings and evenings are on a very tight schedule, and in between is the workday. I only really have an hour every evening of “free time”, which I spend watching TV with my husband. Everything else is scheduled by default, from dinner to dog walking to cleaning the kitchen at night and dog care/getting ready for work in the morning.

We all have priorities, of course, and I’ve chosen to make health a big one of mine. So things like cooking dinner (from scratch) 4-5 nights a week, walking the dogs (which is also one of my workouts) and ten minutes of yoga every morning are important to me, and need to stay priorities. Spending that time with my husband is too. Which means the only negotiable thing left is…writing. And I only had an hour every evening and half an hour in the morning scheduled for that.

One full sleep cycle.

So, I started looking at everything I do and trying to figure out how to make it tighter. More efficient. I managed to consolidate some things into little snippets of quarter hours here and there between other things. I banked on the fact that sleeping more would enable me to get going faster in the mornings so I wouldn’t need the time I normally do just to “wake my brain up” (20 minutes). I banked on the fact that more sleep would equal more motivation, and stacked my schedule tighter. And I figured out how I could get to sleep by 12:30am (to bed earlier…12:30 is the time I have to be asleep by) and get up at 6:30am most days and still have an hour of writing time most nights. Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays are all anomalies…I’ll have to shorten my writing time on Monday night to get up earlier to make the Tues staff meeting (have to be at work an hour earlier than normal). Friday nights are normally my “business hours” for publishing, and now those have to be cut short by a couple of hours due to needing to sleep 6 full hours before I get up to feed the dogs, and I’ll have to figure something out for Saturday nights too, since that’s my manicure night and I’m normally up very late (sometimes 4am).

Making the decision to sleep for 6 hours is hard for me on a lot of levels, but one of those is that late at night, when everyone else is sleeping and the house is quiet is my favorite time of “day”. I’m an introvert, and I need time alone, and that’s really the only time I can be guaranteed that no one will need anything from me for hours at a time. Friday and Saturday nights when I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, by myself, just getting stuff done or doing things specifically for me…it’s a very relaxing, rejuvenating time. Giving that up is difficult, and stressful. I’ll need to figure out how to get some of that “me time” back when everyone is awake. But if that were easy, I’d have done it quite awhile ago.

And of course I need to figure out how to get the business-y stuff I was doing late Friday nights done at other times, and how to get my manicure done in less time so I can get to bed earlier on Sat nights. Both are still works in progress. I tried finishing up marketing/promo stuff this past Saturday morning after I got up (since I was up earlier due to the new sleep schedule), but just getting up earlier doesn’t make me more able to function in the morning – I’m still a night person, and my brain still doesn’t really “work” before 9 or 10am – no amount of sleep is going to help that. Those are hard-wired parts of my personality, so it’ll take some time to work the weekend schedule around the dogs and husband and everything else so I can still keep up with bookkeeping and marketing and all the other non-writing book-related tasks that need to be done. I failed this Saturday night/Sunday morning, and was up until 4am again. I still got 6 hours of sleep, but it wasn’t consecutive – there was a half-hour “up” time in the middle to feed the dogs and let them out. But now I have a whole week to figure out how to get my Saturday nights more consolidated.

Of course next Saturday night we’re going to a concert. And a couple weeks after that, a masquerade party for Halloween. So Saturdays might be my downfall for awhile. Hopefully getting more sleep every other night of the week will offset those. I’ve read various articles on Alzheimer’s studies that say preliminary findings indicate that coconut oil and curry (turmeric, cumin) can help remove those amyloid blockages as well, and I make turmeric paste for the dogs occasionally (turmeric, coconut oil, black pepper & water), so perhaps I’ll make sure to get some turmeric milk or curry in here and there throughout the week too. I do love curry…

I should mention that this past Weds, Thurs and Friday were some of the most clear-headed days I can remember having in a long time. Good focus both at work and later at home, no brain fog, I didn’t need that extra 20 minutes in the morning just to get my brain to function…it was a definite improvement on all levels. So while I can certainly “function” on 4.5 hours of sleep, I’m operating on a serious mental deficit there that I didn’t even recognize in myself until I made the change and paid attention. Kind of scary, when you think about it.

So, more sleep is the name of the game at the moment. Here’s to getting more zzzz’s in our lives (or mine, at least)…