Monday, August 3, 2009

Sundown, Screens Off



My elders passed along down-to-earth wisdom:

  • Think good thoughts.
  • Eat a balanced diet of real food.
  • Enjoy the company of friends and family.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Get regular exercise outdoors.

I’m amazed by my long-standing disregard for that second-to-last piece of advice, the one about getting plenty of sleep.

I ain't alone. Plenty of people pride themselves on “getting by” on less than 8 hours of sleep. My Buddhist studies haven’t helped; among the 5 major hindrances is “sloth and torpor.” It’s so...zen...to get up at 5:00 to meditate even if you got to bed late the night before.

My doctor made me aware of how I was shutting me eyes to the importance of sleep. He asked me to listen to a 60-minutes audio file on sleep. The transcript is here: Sleep.

Luckily, I managed not to doze off as I listened. I learned about several scientific studies (Berkeley, Chicago, Boston) that have linked sleep deprivation to:

  1. impaired memory and cognitive ability
  2. depression
  3. high blood pressure
  4. pre-diabetes
  5. accident proneness
  6. impaired sexual function
  7. decreases of appetite-regulating hormones
  8. obesity
  9. acceleration the aging process
  10. heart disease

This list grabbed my attention. I decided to take action.

My doctor said, “I think you’ll find that every hour you sleep before midnight is worth two hours past midnight. Try to get to bed by 9:00.”

“9:00? Not possible.” I thought.

“It's possible," he said, reading my mind. "When the sun goes down, turn off all screens. TV, computers, cell phones, everything. Grab a book. Write in a journal. Meditate. Have some herbal tea. Sundown, screens off. ”

Well, maybe possible. I don’t have TV or a cell phone; my challenge has been/is/will be the computer.

Five days into this experiment, I’m getting more sleep. My mood’s improved markedly. My blood pressure numbers have come down 10 points, and I’m WAY less hungry because I'm not confusing tiredness with hunger. (When I'm sleep deprived, I really need rest. But I've misinterpreted tiredness as a need more caffeine and food energy...Where's my teapot? I want a shot of sencha to wash down a Clif bar.) I'm sure I'll backslide on this intention, fudge a bit from time to time. But it's a good rule of thumb and I'll be happy to bat 800.

Maybe screens have been eclipsing the deep and natural magic of the night.

May your dreams be sweet.

12 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

What great advice - sun down, screens off. I will remember that. Hard to do. I have known for years about biorhythms and have read about living within the natural cycles here on earth. So much about the way we live goes against what is natural. Funny, I just recall my mother saying that the sleep you get before midnight was better for you than the sleep after. A lot of wisdom from parents and even old cliches like "an apple a day . . . ".

steven said...

hi dan, sage advise to someone who very often lives eighteen hours a day and sleeps for six. there's feature of the quality of sleep and wakefullness as well but let's not throw that into the mix!!! thanks for the reminding information. have a peaceful evening. steven

Sarah Lulu said...

I'm an early to bed girl Dan ...I try to get there by 9.30pm most nights.

Delwyn said...

Hi Dan

that was interesting. I find I don't need as much sleep now I am older and doing less mental work as in a job that is mentally taxing...

I usually get into bed about 11 but read for a while...mind you because it is winter I am not rising til 7.

I had never heard the before and after midnight rule...that's why was all turn into pumpkins I suppose...

Do you read your BP at home?

I monitor mine each day and have found that it can drop 10 - 15- even 25 points if you sit a while and take it a couple of times.
I read the Tao at this time and breathe...

Often the first reading is way higher than the next. I think the very idea of taking the measurement itself induces some kind of anxiety that pushes the reading up.

I also have white coat BP so that in any surgery it can rocket to 165 or more...

My Dr said that these days they are more interested in the diastolic reading, the second one, and that needs to be below 90 to be ok.

I hope you continue with the sleeping program - I know from having 4 youngsters that lack of sleep can send you barmy...

Happy days

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Bonnie— In my chronically sleep-deprived state, I've found that laconic aphorisms are the only ones that I can hold on to and implement. Sundown. Screens off. 3 words I CAN manage.

Dan Gurney said...

Kudos to you Sarah Lulu!

Dan Gurney said...

Steven, yes quality is important. Research indicates that quality of sleep declines as we age, especially the delta wave sleep states that are associated with slowing the aging process. We older folks get much less delta wave sleep than younger folk.

Dan Gurney said...

Delwyn, yes, I've got a home machine. I take it 3 times weekly in the morning when it tends to run highest. I'm told to accept the highest reading I get, which is the first one I take, just as you say. Like you, I have white coat hypertension. I've heard the same info in regard to diastolic vs systolic. I'm aiming for morning readings below 120/80 on the first measurement.

I'll bet you've found that walking lowers BP. Sure does for me, and that's one reason I try to take a walk every day.

Delwyn said...

Hi Dan

yes ...It is always is lower after walking...

My doc said to disregard the first two readings....

Well if you get those readings then you will be perfect...I do only once in a blue moon!

Take is easy my friend...
Happy days

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Delwyn–

There's a blue moon on the last day of 2009. Two full moons in one month are pretty rare, pretty special.

Perhaps the middle way is best? Take an average of your best reading and the worst?

Margaret Pangert said...

That's amazing that you got such tangible results, Dan! I've also heard that 2 or 3 catnaps dispersed throughout the day are beneficial to your health plus give you that energy boost.

Dan Gurney said...

Yes, I've heard catnaps are beneficial. I actually have been a nap lover for years. The secret is to keep naps short, under 20 minutes.