Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sleep Deprivation

Lately I haven’t been sleeping quite as much as I usually do. There are a number of reasons for this change in my schedule, and I’m not going to outline them. No doubt those factors contribute to my attitude regarding my decreased hours of slumber, so I’m not willing to generalize the effects of sleep deprivation based upon my own personal experiences. But as with many other things that manifest in my life, I have become curious and compelled to do a bit of exploration into the subject. Naturally the scope of my research has been limited, and so I implore readers to take that into consideration as I share my thoughts.

First of all, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of firm scientific consensus on the deleterious effects of not sleeping. People have gone as long as 449 hours voluntarily without sleep (Maureen Weston, 1977). Past that, there are cases of folks claiming to have gone up to 33 years without their z’s (Thai Ngoc form Vietnam). Such individuals seem to report an inability or lack of desire to sleep. Tellingly, the doctors who have examined such subjects report little to no adverse reactions. Yet a quick internet search revealed that a lack of “adequate rest” can result in impaired memory, imperfect concentration, a depressed immune system, reduced stress coping mechanisms, compromised decision-making, hallucinations, hypertension, slurred speech, depression,irritability, slower reaction times, and tremors,

And yet… much of the research resulting in such findings is difficult to verify for human beings. After all, it’s inhumane to subject the most “sophisticated” of animals to these types of lab experiments. So basically we know what happens to rats under conditions of sleep deprivation. But I don’t know how much further we can go with those findings. There seems to be a lot of contradictions when it comes to applying any of these conclusions to Homo Sapiens. For instance, you might easily read that a lack of adequate rest can cause you to lose weight, yet another site will tell you that the same thing causes a chemical imbalance that makes you want to eat more and gain pounds.

So I would assume that sleep deprivation affects different people in varying ways, much like any other human condition. If you’d like to see a pessimistic portrayal of someone suffering from this “malaise”, check out Brad Anderson’s The Machinist, with Christian Bale. Five minutes into the film, you’ll realize what side of the weight fluctuation debate Anderson sides with. You’ll also catch a smattering of the aforementioned symptoms associated with the inability to sleep properly. To get an opposite perspective, try looking for accounts of Eastern mystics who claim to need absolutely no sleep and suffer no ill effect. Maybe you’ll find the key to enlightenment.

As for me, I can’t really say that what I’ve been experiencing is all that extreme or out of the ordinary. I have bouts of drowsiness akin to what I imagine narcolepsy would feel like. I’m used to getting about six hours a day, and I nod off at that level about as much as I’ve been doing lately. Perhaps I function at a perpetual deficit of sleep. I have noticed that the barrier between what I understand to be my conscious and subconscious seems to be getting increasingly permeable. And that’s not a particularly worrisome development, In fact, I rather enjoy it. If it weren’t for the dream state accompanying REM, I think I could willingly part with my need to sleep altogether, If “they” ever devise a pill that makes it unnecessary, I’m sure I’ll try it.

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Blogger NERO said...

I have always held to the belief that sleep is a horribly necessary evil. And if I could do without it, I would at a turn of a hat as the saying would go. I believe that sleep is extremely over-rated and I only do it when completely and absolutely necessary and there are no other options. I do however, believe that there is a big difference between actual sleep and rest. I believe (like the mystics most likely do using yoga and other meditation techniques) that one can learn to relax their body and major processing organs. It is supposedly an already proven fact that seratonin can help in repairing neural pathways as well as help the release of other similar enzymes and catalytic chemicals that help the bodies cellular systems to rebuild. So, I will just have to agree with you that if we ever find the pill that allows us to bypass that whole inefficient sleep mechanism, I would be at the pharmacy getting my bottle. I will have to also agree about the ever so diminishing line between the subconscious and conscious. When I was in collage was probably the last time when I was really under pretty stressful conditions including very bad sleeping habits. I remember several events when dream like events occurred while I was completely lucid, attentive, and in control of the events - they were really really neat.

9:18 PM  

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