Art by Mike LeeHAVING BEEN AWAKE THREE NIGHTS straight gathering information on sleep deprivation, I've developed an almost entirely meritless theory: America's bloodthirst for entertainment is a sublimation for missing dreams.
According to the nonprofit National Sleep Foundation, America, in its quest for almighty everythingness, leads the industrialized world in sleep deprivation. The average American gets less than seven hours of sleep a day. "We've become a nation of walking zombies," says Cornell University psychologist James Maas, acclaimed author of Power Sleep. "Between the seventh and eighth hour is when we get almost an hour of REM sleep, the time when the mind repairs itself, grows new connections and puts it all together. REM sleep occurs about every 90 minutes, and the periods of REM sleep get longer as the night progresses. If you're a six-hour sleeper, you're missing that last, important opportunity to repair and to prepare for the coming day."
Technology doesn't help. "When the light bulb was invented," says Dallas psychologist Don Weaver, director of the Insomnia Program at Sleep Medicine Associates of Texas, "that knocked a half-hour to an hour off our sleep per night. The Internet -- and I am waiting for some research to show this -- is responsible for at least an hour or more of lost sleep per night. It is a contributor to this condition of insufficient-sleep syndrome."
Where did we err? Born sleeping machines, we snooze all day and no one seems to mind. We're encouraged to sleep. In kindergarten, we're even given special mats -- vinyl tri-fold napping devices (red, white and blue, generally) (padded and embossed with pentagrams, generally) -- and told to sleep on them for half an hour each day, following milk break. Fair enough. But in first grade they take it all away. Not just the nap mats but napping, even though they'd just spent an eighth of the previous year teaching it.
Fortunately, by college we've come to our senselessness: What more demonstrative show of loyalty to the American Way than the all-American all-nighter? With obvious pride, the ass-busting, go-getting American worker complains, "I pulled an all-nighter!" for all to hear, determined as he is to be anointed with pity for his sacrifice to the great Machine.
The usual equation: Pulled an all-nighter! > (Did you finish) > Yep! > (Do you want me to make you some coffee) > Sounds good! > (Here's your diploma/promotion).
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AND SO MY MERITLESS THEORY GOES. Seventy million of us, according to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, don't sleep enough. Without the REM our brains require to reboot, we'll sublimate by inflicting a sense of surreality on our waking lives, thus creating such horrors as network television, Disney movies and Gallagher. Still, there is something to be said for occasional circadian experimentation. Braving the relative calm of the night, snoring through the machinery of daylight, just for the experience. For free -- less than you spend on popular prescription and non-prescription drugs -- an all-nighter gives you a different perspective from which to consider your routines and rituals. And while it may knock a few hours off your life's length, you might find it has a pleasant effect on its width.
Getting a good night's sleep would be easier if the people you work for showed you the same respect they show sleeping dogs. But time is (someone else's) money, so TipNet presents How To Get a Good Night's Sleep (www.cyber-north.com/tipnet/sleep.html), a list of "potions, teas, vitamins, drinks, massages and herbal baths helpful in inducing a good night's sleep." Recommended: Number 7: "Massage the soles of your feet with mustard oil at bedtime."
The Circadian Learning Center's Lark and Owl Test (www.circadian.com/lark_owl_test_text.htm) determines your resemblance to fowl based on answers to six vague yet shallow questions. Except for Number 6: "When you've stayed up later than usual (had a late evening), when do you wake up the next morning (assuming you didn't have any alcohol)?" Choose from "Later than usual, with a desire to fall back asleep," "Varies" and "At your usual time with a desire to get out of bed." I'm sure they mean well.
The National Sleep Foundation's 1995 Gallup Poll found that 46 percent of people with sleep deprivation attribute it to stress; 26 percent figure it is impossible to have successful careers without sleep deprivation. Stay up late > keep job > keep family > keep security. But just how secure can security be? "When the Cold War was hot, the U.S. government built hundreds of Atlas-F missile silos (for $18 million each in 1961) to prepare the country for an attack that never came." For only $2.3 million, you can own a genuine 2,000-square-foot Atlas-F Missile Silo Home (www.adirondack-airpark.com/atlasf.htm), with a 20,000-square-foot secure underground facility designed to absorb the shock of a direct nuclear hit. Sleep tight!