Chronic Sleep Deprivation: It's Not Natural

November 05, 2018 0 Comments

Chronic Sleep Deprivation: It's Not Natural

Daylight savings time came upon us again this past weekend, as it does each year. As a retired person, all that meant was that I'd be awake, staring at the bedroom ceiling, one extra hour in the early morning. Or up watching "Green Acres."

I'm a notoriously bad sleeper and have been for many years. Thank goodness for coffee and programmable coffee makers.

Maybe this has something to do with why I sleep poorly...

A few years back I read a study claiming that if you get enough sleep you’ll wake up beautiful.

That finding should make us chronically sleep-deprived folks very concerned. Does this mean there's no use in spackling on thick layers of makeup in the morning? Does this mean that no amount of eyeliner, applied in an upward swooping arc, can make our tired eyes look alert and perky?

The authors of this groundbreaking study found scientific backing for the concept of beauty sleep. In this case “scientific” meant the subjective perceptions of a group of paid observers.

The study, led by John Axelsson from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, investigated the relationship between sleep and perceptions of attractiveness and health. (Frankly, how these researchers found even one unattractive person in Sweden is the more significant aspect of this study.)

Twenty-three participants between the ages of 18 to 31 took part in the study. They were photographed between 2 pm and 3 pm on two occasions, once after normal sleep and once after being sleep-deprived.

Curious, I checked out the British Medical Journal for the actual study. Well, I looked at some of the pictures at least.

Smokers were excluded from the study. I suppose that makes sense since most smokers have a grayish pallor, more wrinkles than nonsmokers, and yellowish teeth. Apparently, it doesn’t matter how much a smoker sleeps; beauty is their “no smoking zone.”

Also, participants weren’t allowed alcohol two days before the experiment. Makes sense, doesn't it? Everyone knows that four gin and tonics consumed before bedtime will wreck havoc on sleep. Seems to me they should have prohibited salty snacks before bedtime as well. Sensibly, they didn’t allow the participants to sleep with pugs or Boston Terriers who are known to be unabashed bed hogs who snore. 

The researchers selected participants between the ages of 18 and 31. Most 18-31 year olds could party all night, get two hours of sleep and wake up looking pretty darn good. That is, unless they had also eaten a bag of Doritos and went to bed dehydrated—in that case they’d wake up swollen and puffy with a tongue resembling a shaggy, overstuffed pillow.

I'm skeptical. Everyone knows that anyone older than 31 would have to be excluded because at that age you could get the sleep of Rip Van Winkle and never wake up looking refreshed. There’s a reason why modeling agencies consider a model’s career over at 27 or 28. There’s a reason why it’s hard to find shows on TV with actors older than 30. If you can, they’re taking the roles of the older brother who has a severe drug problem or the housewife whose cosmetic surgery is her best friend forever.

“The authors believe this research is important in today's 24-hour society with the number of people suffering from sleep disorders and disturbed sleep on the rise.”

Yeah, sure.

But what does that have to do with beauty and other people's perceptions of it?

The study is "important" because a good night’s sleep will make others think you’re beautiful. Because beauty, after all, is THE ONE thing we should all strive for. It gets a person the promotion, the job, the starring role in very bad action films and a spot in People Magazine’s Top 100 Most Beautiful People. Beauty does this—not a good night’s sleep. Not a rested, relaxed, but semi-attractive or plain face, which still won’t, even with a good night’s sleep, help you compete when placed next to beauty.

Apparently, too, it doesn’t matter if you possess the soul of a scoundrel, the cruel stupidity of the epicly ignorant, the ethics of a pirate or the rigidly intolerant religious beliefs of the far right. Those qualities have nothing to do with our perceptions of physical beauty, after all, right?

The more critical issue about sleep has to do not with beauty, but the importance of people's circadian rhythms, which roughly adheres to the rising and setting of the sun.

Some people have no choice but to live and work with an abnormal relationship between their circadian rhythm and the clock. Think of the poor, sleep-deprived folks who have to work the cash register at all-night supermarkets. Or airplane pilots.

Studies about sleep and sleep-deprivation tell us that even our bodies' organs and tissues rely on the natural clock.

In the long term, lack of natural sleep can exacerbate the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and other health problems like diabetes, and increase one's propensity for obesity and metabolic disorders.

So, to sum up, I say strive for a good night's sleep for your own health and well-being. And, if you're cranky after a poor night's sleep, as I certainly am, do it for the well-being of everyone you come into contact with that day.

For an interesting read, take a look at:

Chronobiology: Stepping out of Time by Michael Eisenstein.

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