Sleep is Important
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 by Manuel Batlle
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        On a recent road trip to Alexandria, Virginia while in the passenger seat, I observed the drained appearance in the face of many drivers. Anyone can quickly notice where the change in the pattern of driving begins as Route 66 east leaving behind the slower style of driving seen in the countryside of Virginia. This stirred my desire to remember and better understand the importance of sleep.
        My first stop took me to an article on sleep hygiene called, “Association Between Sleep Hygiene and Sleep Quality in Medical Students, 2010” from the Behavioral Sleep Medicine journal. Here they defined sleep hygiene as those behaviors that are believed to promote improved quantity and quality of sleep. In such a vast array of humans, definitions help in keeping continuity but not all are absolute. 
         I surely would like my time in slumber to be the most hygienic. Therefore I began to research and I found that sleep schedule regularity, daytime exercise, good standing in physical health, 6-8 hour blocks of sleep, stopping all technological and non-technological endeavors at least 1 hour prior to sleep would assist in reaching the nirvana of sleep and the bliss that comes with rest.
        Previous to the road trip, I have been staying in a house in the mountains of western Virginia. After being in the bay area for almost a year seeing green and rain is like a nature shock. Up in the mountains, time seems to stand still as if we are reaching the speed of light. Our light like speed is the result of catching up with sleep, eating regularly, which free up our senses from the demanding activities that our daily lives may have. I cannot deny this environment frees the senses like a lightning bolt that breaks the chemical bonds of molecules in the air permitting them to fall to the ground and bring nutrients below.
         As we entered Alexandria the driving style changed dramatically. Vehicles merged abruptly many times without warning making us put on our defensive driver suit. We were not in a rush and simply drove in the direction our GPS was guiding since he had the time of arrival already in view. It was no secret we were entering a suburban environment.
        In 2012 an article called “The Benefits of Slumber” from the National Institute of health stated that 70 million Americans of all ages suffer from chronic sleep problems. Chronic problems not only were because of immediate modifiable factors like sleep schedule regularity but also physical impediments as in the case of obesity and sleep apnea. Here you could see listed beneficial factors of sleep like growth, stress hormone regulation, immune system improvement, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Now thinking back as we drove on Route 66 East, I wonder how many of the erratic moving vehicles had drivers affected by chronic sleep problems?
        We all know that sleep deprivation affects driving. An article from the American Psychological Association on sleep deprivation wrote “ Sleep loss, he says, leads to increased physiological pressure for sleep: Sleep-deprived people will enter deep sleep within 4 minutes of closing their eyes, as opposed to 40 minutes for non-sleep-deprived people. So, it's harder for a sleep-deprived person to remain alert and attentive during any task, including those like driving in which attentiveness is critical.” If the only item needed to reach a simplistic conclusion was the look on the drivers face, I would have simplistically concluded, sleep.
        How much is enough sleep? All articles shared the notion that 6-8 hours a night was a noble number to reach the optimal level for our physical body to be well rested. I then looked back to this previous year and realized I had on most nights satisfied the hour amount. My days would consist of waking at 6 am, working half the day and studying the rest until I would call it a day at 11pm.
        An article from the New York times called “Rethinking sleep” brought to light old practices of sleep where the phrases “first sleep” and “second sleep” challenged the new notion of sleeping through a 6-8 hour bulk of slumber. A portion read: “It seemed that, given a chance to be free of modern life, the body would naturally settle into a split sleep schedule.” This article now helped make sense of what I experienced in the mountain.
        I had recently taken a test that lasted 9 hours and immediately prepared to leave the same night to Tri-city Tennessee. After 12 hours and 3 airplanes both my friend and I met up with his family that drove us to western Virginia. I remember lying down that night and as a mummy lay motionless for 13 hours till the next day. Within the next couple days I slept regularly, took naps mid afternoon till I noticed I would wake between 3-4am feeling refreshed. I would be well rested but would then return and awake at 7am. Was I now experiencing my own first and second sleep?
        A very important aspect of sleep is that during this time the brain organizes and rearranges new information. In the past, I remember computers had an option to defragment your hard disk. This was a way to pull files from different locations and have them organized together. Today we are all familiar with the word “Update” thanks to technology. We permit this function to occur because we are aware that they bring optimization and efficiency to the apparatus. The brain also uses sleep to do “Updates” to the architecture and improving the flow of the synaptic network. Here the brain takes new information in temporary memory and sets in long term memory.
        Moments like mine on the mountain permit me to take toll on where I was, where I am and where I am going. It permits me to understand that sleep is not a luxury but a necessity. It gives me time to disconnect form the daily demands of living in a suburban society and update my activities deciding which are important for my body and which ones add tension not permitting sleep hygiene to be present. I am well aware that I only have one body so it is of utmost importance for me not to abuse and assist in modifying practices so it will work most efficiently. I not only accept that cognitive performance is improved with a simple nap but experience its truth.
        We finally made it to Alexandria, Virginia, right on time as the GPS guided us, having a wonderful visit with my friend’s uncle and his wife. Ellis was a World War II veteran that made his way through Africa and Europe doing the best he could as a young soldier. His wife Carmen is a beautiful lady of both Chilean and German descent with a plastic art patrimony from her father and mother that has transcended into the next generations including her grandchildren.
        In my field of work I have learned that all bodies are different. Although we like to think we are all the same and general protocols are created to treat all as a bulk, our bodies in some aspects differ one from the other. So where are the step-by-step instructions on how to obtain the best rest and optimal use of our body? This general information may help you fine-tune your practices on sleep and hopefully stir the desire of reevaluation of daily practices to ensure better health.