Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, February 18, 2005

It feels more like the cinematic version of the end of hypnosis than it does waking up. On the count of three, when I snap my fingers, you're going two wake up. One, two, three. Snap.

My eyes are open, and my breaths slide smoothly, cleanly out of my lungs.

Good morning.

This contradicts everything a twenty-two year old American is expected to do. It's six in the morning, and I'm a college student. Today is Friday, and that means my first class is at eleven thirty. I guarantee you, if I were to tell anyone else on campus that I got up between six and seven in the morning, just because I wanted to, they'd call me crazy. If I were to meet myself as I am now, two years ago, I would've called myself crazy.

Eight hours of sleep isn't just overrated.

It may very well be complete nonsense.

Last night, I was out at a bar, getting home about midnight, and I didn't get to bed until a quarter past two. I feel fine -- great, even. If I had stayed in bed until nine, I know I'd have felt worse. Sleeping past dawn is a drug. We're not wired for it. Every extra hour I sleep just makes me that much more full of grogginess and yawns when I do wake up.

Today, with four hours of sleep, I wake up quickly, easily, and start my day. I'll take a nap later on, probably two of them, each about twenty minutes, and then sleep four more hours again tonight. It works better this way.

If you're still stapled to your long-sleep-nights routine, the same thing you've been doing for years, it's time you tried something else.

I had no idea it worked like this, and I'm not suggesting this schedule is what'll work for you. I do know that, as far as psychological studies and journals that I've read, (some, but I'm far from a doctor, or even a psych major) that there are two key factors to sleep that put it all together.

One is dreams, those precious, eye-fluttering moments that keep your mind pieced together, sane. Your body, your musculo-skeletal structure, doesn't need to sleep. Every muscle in your body sleeps when it's not being used, which, thanks to biology, is often enough. Your heart certainly doesn't skip off and take naps. It's this overheating, massive gray matter that makes it all count; gray matter, which, I might add, takes an absurd amount of calories, compared to other life forms to keep on-line.

That, of course, is why I'd recommend exercise -- you're going to need a whole lot of brain fuel to life your life to its fullest, and getting all of that hemoglobin and glucose flowing at the rates you'll need takes a lot of juice. Energy. Power.

The second thing I do know, from a factual standpoint, is that you have several 'phases' of sleep in any continuous multi-hour period. Neurons fire off in clusters and waves; faster waves and slower ones, serving different, arcane purposes. You, o human, are a complex animal. I don't know the details of all of the gamma waves and corresponding electroencephalogram readings or any of that. As I said, I'm not a high-level bio-psychology student. What I've read is that these cycles start of in a shallow phase, very close to consciousness, and drift through progressively deeper levels of sleep, and the whole seems to come in chunks of three and a half, maybe four hours. Wake up midway through one, and you're likely to feel pretty disoriented, tired, and groggy -- you've broken the cycle.

Break the cycle, and you haven't gotten back around to the most useful parts of it: the very, very slow delta waves at the deepest part, and the shallowest part that immediately follows containing REM sleep. I'm sure you all know that equals dreaming.

Since our average westerner hasn't got anywhere near the time to get eight hours of sleep strung together, the way I understand it, once you've gotten through that fourth hour, it may not do you a whole lot of good to bother with the fifth, or the sixth, unless you've got a mind to to go all of the way through until the eighth.

For my own part, anecdotal evidence has borne that out. And it's pretty cool what I can do with an extra two or three hours, every day, that otherwise would have just been spent in the addictive, opium-dream that is wasted sleep.

Give it a go. I'd love to know how it works out for you.

I would caution: any change to your biological habits, those 'circadian rhythms' we get programmed with, takes some time to adapt. Don't confuse the difficulties of breaking habits with something not working for you.

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