TWO-LANE LIFE - Glorious Sleep - By Lisa Hayes-Minney

Throughout his life, my father often offered me sound advice. When I was a troubled teenager, he told me something that I still think on often. “Lisa,” he said, “the best thing you can do is become a Morning Person.”

Daddy had served as a Navy medic with the Marines in the Korean War, and at the time he issued that wonderful gem of advice, owned and operated his own business. Six days a week, Daddy set his alarm for 6 a.m., and by 7 a.m., was already in town having breakfast with a fellow business owner. By 8 a.m., both their businesses were open for the day. On Sundays, Daddy got to “sleep in,” not having to rise for Sunday School until an hour later in the day.

I am not a Morning Person. Forty years after Daddy offered me that advice, I still have not been able to apply it to my life. I have had jobs where I had to report at 5 a.m., and jobs where I had to commute an hour to arrive by 8 a.m. I have functioned as a Morning Person when I had to, but I have never “become” one. I tend to rise earlier in the spring and summer, and with the time change, shift into a completely different schedule. As an irresponsible young adult, I would regularly sleep until noon. Now, unless I’m sick, I don’t allow myself to sleep past nine. I can’t, without burdening myself with guilt the rest of the day.

A few years ago, I lamented to a wise friend, “I wish I was a Morning Person.” She laughed at me and replied, “Yeah, and I wish I was taller.” At that moment, I began to wonder if Daddy had suggested the impossible. Maybe some folks are born to be Morning People, and others are not. Perhaps I simply don’t have the genetic capacity to achieve Morning Person status.

Research supports this. People are born one way of another. Whether someone is a morning person or a night owl is related to their circadian rhythms, or the “internal clock” that tells them when it's time to go to bed and when it's time to wake up. These rhythms are influenced by genetics as well as environment and behavior.

I love to sleep. For me, there’s nothing like a good night’s rest, and in my lifetime, when nothing happened to awaken me, have slept for 16-18 hours straight. Without an alarm clock or guilt for wasting a day, I can sleep an entire day away. I could be a Morning Person--if morning arrived around noon. Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t come easy for me. People who lie down and slip away almost immediately amaze me. Unless I am physically exhausted, it takes at least a good hour for me to drift off. This is the main reason I allow myself only one cup of coffee in the morning and avoid all caffeine after 10 a.m. Daytime naps are impossible, and a single cola at 6 p.m. can keep me up all night.

When stressed, I suffer from insomnia. I will toss and turn for hours, sleepy and tired yet still awake at 3 a.m. By that time, if I want to function at all the next morning, it’s far too late to take a sleep aid. My habit in such instances is to rise and do an hour of yoga or take a long hot shower, then return to bed and try again. This year has not been a good year for sleep. I have taken more hot showers and downward dogs at 3 a.m. this year than any previous year.

Sleep is a vital part of our existence. Without it, we would cease to function. Even short-term sleep deprivation can result in some nasty effects, like impaired thinking and weakened immunity. A lack of sleep can affect long and short-term memory, affect your balance and coordination, cause weight gain and high blood pressure, and increase blood sugar levels. A lack of sleep causes moodiness, decreased patience, and an increased chance of early death. A good snooze is a great cure for things like stress, anxiety, and a bad mood. Sleep does a body good and is even more essential during times of crisis.

Twice, during the recent Thanksgiving break, I allowed myself to sleep in. I gave myself permission to let my body rest as long as it wanted. It was glorious, wonderful, amazing. Both days I slept until 11, after falling asleep around midnight the night before (about an hour after going to bed). I awakened feeling rested and fresh. One of those days, I spent the remainder of the day tackling chores with a refreshed energy. On the other sleep-in day, I was lazy and caught up on my television shows, taking an hour-long nap in the afternoon. I did yoga that evening, then soaked in a warm bubble bath. That night I fell asleep almost immediately.

For me, a good bout of sleep is as wonderful as warm brownies out of the oven--something special to be valued, embraced, devoured, and enjoyed as a treat. Your body needs sleep, just as it needs air and food to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention. Health experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep each night. I can function on six but am at my best with eight.

I understand that Daddy had good intentions when he offered his advice. If we want good lives, we need to make the most of every day. I still wish I could be a Morning Person, but accept that I may not be, ever. I understand that it’s just not in my genetics. I have no wish to sleep my life away, but when the body needs rest, I say we should give it what it needs.

It’s been a tough year--a year of anxiety, stress, health risks, deprivation, lack of social interaction. All these things can lead to a loss of sleep, right when our body needs it most. So, during this season of thanks and gift-giving, offer your body and your brain the gift of sleep. Skip the alarm clock on Saturday and take a nap or two. Permit yourself to sleep in. As for you Morning People out there, have some mercy on us non-morning folks. Keep quiet in those early hours and have the coffee ready.

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