I recently had a difficult first-hand reminder of how profoundly sleep deprivation affects us. There is a possum involved in this story and how I wish it had been playing possum, but read on to find out why.
Sleep is one of those non-negotiable elements of good health and for good reason. Without a good night’s sleep our bodies cannot take care of the business of repairing and growing tissue, releasing certain hormones, and restoring our energy. In a way it is similar to eating, for without it we literally cannot function or thrive. Lack of sleep results in waking up tired and groggy. We tend to go into caffeine mode to “power up” for the day, only to find ourselves crashing later and feeling even more tired. It impairs our ability to remember, to think clearly and we struggle with “brain fog” throughout the day. Reflexes are slowed and emotions may get a little testy. Chronic loss of sleep is also a key factor in the development and worsening of all types of chronic diseases and conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression and more.
Trust me. I work very intentionally to ensure a good night’s sleep for myself. There are no electronic devices at bedtime for me. No television, tablets or cell phones with their blue-light brain-waking effect that interfere with deep sleep. I have created a sleep oasis to lull me into relaxation. To wind-down I do this “old-school” thing called reading a book – the kind with actual paper pages. This acts almost like taking a tranquilizer for me and often the last sound I hear is the thud of the book falling onto the floor.
So I was not happy to be woken from a deep delicious dream by the sound that seemed to be coming from one of the outside walls of my bedroom.
I am a very deep sleeper, so believe me when I say it was really loud and had a desperate clawing sound. My husband bravely went out to check on the ruckus, but couldn’t see a thing. The second that our lights went out the sound would start again then move around to different areas under our house. Despite trying to catch the critter in the act, we ended up going through a nightly torment of this noise for over a week. We tried many things to get rid of our little naughty nightly visitor, including getting a live-trap so we could catch it and relocate it. Incidentally, we live in the middle of a city so these are urban possums. No luck. We finally found a way to determine when it wasn’t under the house and began a systematic blocking off of all the screened vents along our raised foundation.
I was literally struggling during that time to function during the day. Both my mind and body felt like I was moving through quicksand. I dragged myself through my work days barely getting through. Everything took extra-effort, contributing to an ever-more-exhausted feeling! The severe loss of sleep over a 7 day period was also a personal epiphany. I had just joined the ranks of 30% of Americans who get less that 6 hours of sleep per night. Our bodies as adults need a minimum of 7 hours and 8 hours is even better. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), chronic sleep deprivation is now considered to be a serious public-health issue with 50 to 70 million adults struggling with disordered sleep. This is causing an uptick not only in health conditions but is endangering lives through increased traffic and industrial accidents and other occupational errors. Now I literally understand why.
After successfully shooing away our little intruder I was once again able to get all my zzz’s and couldn’t believe the stark difference in my functioning after just a couple of days. Sleep is truly restorative. Our possum, as it turns out was apparently crashing under our house to give birth and was last spotted on my neighbors fence helping herself and her 5 little babies to some nice ripe figs and finding someplace new to sleep.
I'm Carmina McGee, MS, RDN, and my mission is to support women to live their happiest, healthiest lives and THRIVE!