Wake up! Life is but a dream of sleep

March 22, 1994|By Elise T. Chisolm

In search of sleep . . . Have you noticed that sleep has become a kind of national obsession, that millions of people worry about their sleep? When two or three people are gathered, often talk turns to their sleep deprivation or sleep patterns -- how they slept the night before, or how they didn't sleep on vacation, or after barbecue ribs and beans. At a wedding, a picnic, or at the checkout counter, any background is all right for talking about Z's.

My garage mechanic tells me he never gets enough sleep: "I think I hate my job, it's boring."

He wants a diagnosis. I tell him to take up hang gliding: "Get some real fear in your life."

At work, there's always one person who ponders their wakefulness -- due to constipation, snoring of spouse, bad back, too much alcohol or not enough. We've heard it all.

What is this phenomenon?

I think it is predicated on this: Ten years ago, the medical world told us we didn't have to get as much sleep as we thought we needed.

Experts pointed out that Albert Einstein apparently only needed four hours a night. Well, you can tell he was too tired -- he didn't shave, didn't even get his beard cut.

Not me. I need eight hours. I am sill making up for all those hours I missed while raising kids.

Recently, we read the headline, "Loss of sleep is a danger to millions . . . threatens half of the U.S."

Oh, wow, here we go. A panel of sleep experts at the Sleep Disorders Center, Stanford University, announced that chronic sleep deprivation is America's costliest invisible medical problem. And the New York Times says that 100 million sleep-starved people are driving cars, trucks, administering medical care and co-piloting commercial jets.

I think that part of this pillow-toss is that we all have a form of "hurried sickness." We're all stressed out. High school students worry about whether to go to college or join a motorcycle gang, 40-year-olds worry about their jobs, and 60-year-olds worry about social security and retirement.

We worry about everything because there's so much to worry about. Then the media keep bombarding us with bad news just before we go to bed. Everything from political and sex scandals to serial killers, guns and wars.

My other theory is that our houses are too well lighted. The other night when I couldn't sleep and I roamed the house, I noticed my green computer light, my microwave light, the digital clocks and VCRs -- they all give off pinpoints of light. Our house is like daybreak -- all beamed up.

A sleepless friend wants me to go to a sleep clinic with her. She is a perfectionist and can't go to sleep until the oven and the fridge have been cleaned with a Q tip. She gets up at 2 a.m. to check the white carpet for spots.

I'd sign up with her, but I thought about strangers watching me sleep through windows, and what would professionals think when they see I have to sleep with the pillow covering my face? Sure, sleep can be elusive. But listen, waking hours can be exasperating, too.

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