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BOB BROWN: Sleep Debt Will Break The Bank

Robert Louis Stevenson, in his 1879, ‘Travels with a Donkey,’ reminded us that, “Night is a dead monotonous period under a roof, but in the open world it passes lightly with its stars and dews and perfumes, and the hours are marked by the changes in the face of mother nature.”

Yes, sleeping outdoors may have been refreshing 145 years ago, especially for tuberculosis patients when the air was nearly pure, antibiotics were undiscovered, and terrorists minimally active.

A 2022 Gallup survey reported that only 32% of American adults got “excellent or very good sleep.” The remaining 2/3rds got varying degrees of restorative sleep. Bottom line: we are nation with a huge sleep debt (sleep less than 7 hours we hope to catch up on).

Insufficient sleep causes poor memory, trouble concentrating, poor health including heart disease, and major industrial accidents such as The Three Mile Island Nuclear incident, and countless others of similar magnitude. Am I saying our national sleep debt is worse than our national financial debt? No one is printing more sleep. Seldom does my dear wife return from shopping with both groceries and a smile.

Most of us practice ‘poor sleep hygiene.’

If you want to enjoy refreshing sleep, absolutely essential for our precious 3-pound brain, keep these habits ritually:

1. Go to bed every night and get every morning at the same time,

2. The use of alcohol as a beverage has no known medical benefits, but if you want to destroy the normal sleep architecture or stages, drink a shot of alcohol before or near bedtime.

3. Turn the clock away from your sight and do not check the time unless you are a night watchman.

4. Caffeine is ubiquitous, found in more foods and beverages than you can imagine; if you must have your morning coffee, enjoy it in the morning.

5. The room in which you intend to sleep must be ABSOLUTELY DARK, but of course those with handicaps may need nightlights.

6. Sleep in a room that is as cool when possible.

7. If you are just as tired when you wake in the morning, ask your doctor for a home Sleep Apnea Test; successfully treated Sleep Apnea can dramatically improve your health.

8 Get a good mattress.

9. Sex can have a positive effect on sleep.

10. A quiet place to sleep is important.

11. Avoid “sleeping pills.”

12. Physical exercise no later than mid-afternoon improves sleep.

13. Restless legs keep some people awake; it can be treated medically.

14 Healthy people who remain in bed 10 hours or longer have a higher death rate.

As I scratch my head, wondering how culture wars have been fought and lost right under my eyes without my awareness, and with unprecedented rapidity, I think our nation’s sleep debt, including my own inattention, may be meaningful explanations.

I was born and reared during the great depression. World War II started when I was a 10-year-boy with an older brother in combat. I joined the Army during the Korean War, and I was in medical school during the war in Vietnam. I volunteered to serve on active duty during Operation Desert Storm.

None of these major life events affected me the way I am disturbed by what is happening now and has been happening to our culture during the past 2 or 3 decades. The enemy is invisible to me. The solution is evasive. I want to shout, “Wake up, America, before it’s too late.”

A sleepy nation wants to sleep. It does not want the stress associated with yet another conflict, one that may well cause more restless nights, even one trending to destroy our nation.

In Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, 1954, Bing Crosby sang, “When I’m weary and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Sound advice.

When I’m weary and I have difficulty falling asleep or wake in the dark night, I repeat this biblical verse, “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalms 4:8 NKJV.

Robert S. Brown Sr.

Robert S. Brown, MD, PHD a retired Psychiatrist, Col (Ret) U.S. Army Medical Corps devoted the last decade of his career to treating soldiers at Fort Lee redeploying from combat. He was a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Education at UVA. His renowned Mental Health course taught the value of exercise for a sound mind.

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