An Alternative to Hibernation

This morning, as I was tired and cold on my way to work, I thought about how great it would be to hibernate. Can you imagine shutting down from January to March, wrapped up in your favorite blanket, warm, safe, sleeping, sleeping, and then sleeping some more until it is time to wake up to the warming days and the budding flora and fauna? Sure you would be famished and probably need to pee real badly, but otherwise, you would feel pretty great. Now, we obviously can’t do that, so I want to simply write about healthy sleep.

Every mammal requires sleep, and most mammals sleep at night. This makes sense as, before electricity, there really wasn’t much to do after dark (there has always been one activity that people engaged in after dark, but I am trying to keep this as a “family” article). Any way, at night, why not slow the body down, promote healing, conserve and even replenish energy stores? In addition sleep likely offers a way to process and store memories, consolidate learning, and may bolster the immune system. In children, growth hormone is secreted.

The body is built to tell us when to sleep. The brain uses a chemical called Adenosine as a gauge to let the body know it is time to sleep. As Adenosine builds up, a person will become more and more tired. During sleep, the Adenosine levels drop and that helps promote wakefulness as the morning approaches. In addition, Melatonin levels rise during sleep and fall during the day.    Core body temperature decreases when it is time to sleep as well. When people suffer from insomnia, try to push through these natural signs for sleep, or are using substances to stay awake (cocaine, caffeine, stimulants, etc.) sleep deprivation occurs.

Sleep deprivation is a nasty problem. After one bad night of sleep, you are virtually guaranteed a day filled with irritability, low efficiency with problems in concentration and judgment (you can almost look like you have ADD), less patience, low energy, possibly with periods of adrenalin release causing what some would call being “slap happy”.  From a motor coordination standpoint, there will be decreased reaction time and accuracy. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to impaired function of the immune system, cardiovascular problems, risk for type 2 Diabetes, depression and anxiety. Sleep deprived children will perform poorly in school, have behavior problems and be at risk for growth retardation.

Sadly, I just described about 30% of the population in the United States. The lifestyle and culture in the United States lends to sleep deprivation and, in my opinion, this is an important reason for the tremendous increase in mental health problems over the last few decades. There is now a lot to do after dark and a lot of it is fun. Who wants to miss out on anything?

Actually, I do. I prefer how good I feel in the morning after a solid night of 7­8 hours of sleep. Sleep is so vital to physical and mental health that if you have a sleep problem I strongly suggest you seek help for it. A very basic definition of a sleep problem is if you
sleep less than 7­8 hours per night and/or feel sleepy during the day or experience any other problem from lack of sleep.    There are several ways to treat a sleep problem both with and without medications. The first thing that should be done is rule out any medical cause for sleep problems or daytime sleepiness such as sleep apnea or depression.
Next, work on behavior, called “sleep hygiene”. Refer to the sleep tips tab in the left column of the “education” page on my website. Sleep tips explains sleep hygiene and offers several strategies to improve sleep.
Alas, we cannot hibernate through the cold, dark days of winter so we should do the next best thing; ensure that every night we are doing everything we can to get a good night’s sleep. With that, you would be in too good of a mood to want to hibernate any way.

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