Counting sheep and getting nowhere?
You may have dozed off while driving. Or you feel tired all day, and concentrating is a chore. But at 3 a.m. you lie in bed tossing and turning instead of snoozing. Like nearly 70 million Americans, you may have a sleep disorder. Whether the problem is insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, or narcolepsy, this eye-opening guide helps you analyze your symptoms, find the best professional help, and enjoy the relief of a good night's sleepat last! Find out about:
Read an Excerpt
Most of us spend approximately one third of our lives sleeping. Yet, in spite of recent years of intensive research, the need for sleep is poorly understood. Also unclear is why our sleep must follow a particular daily pattern to be refreshing. As research into the "norms" of sleep has progressed, abnormalities of sleep have been identified. The identification of these sleep "disorders," descriptions of how they deviate from normal sleep, and suggestions for how they may be corrected are the subject of this book.
Some find sleep, "that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life" (Virginia Woolf), an undesirable necessity and try to avoid it. Leonardo da Vinci, feeling that long nighttime sleep interrupted his flow of creativity, took many short naps throughout the day. There are many reports of individuals who claim to thrive on four hours of sleep nightly, and are derogatory of others who need more sleep.
However, those individuals who are unable to sleep when sleep is desired know the kind of toll it take on their sense of well-being the following day. On the other hand, there are those, who even with eight or more hours of sleep, still feel exhausted the following day. Others awaken in unrecalled terror during the night or wander the halls, frightening their families or endangering themselves. These and other disorders of sleep can cause an otherwise mentally and physically healthy individual to live a life of frustration and low productivity.
There are many myths about sleep, and they often vary with cultures. These myths, when accepted as "norms," may cause much suffering or feelings of inadequacy in those whose sleep needsare different. Although many of us in the United States are taught as children that we each need eight hours of sleep every night, it is now clear that that is not necessarily true. Even less true is the eighteenth-century English proverb regarding sleep requirements, "Six hours for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool." A night owl raised with the belief that, "early to bed, early to rise, make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," may grow up feeling lazy and inadequate, though he may be quite creative in the late hours of the night. In our current culture, children are expected to sleep in their own room and their parents' bed is forbidden territory, though in many cultures of the world the entire family sleeps together.
Sleep plays such a central role in our lives that literature is filled with references to its disturbances. Dreams and nightmare are often dwelt upon: "Sleep is when all the unsorted stuff comes flying out, as from a dustbin upset in a high wind"(Golding). Rip Van Winkle, who slept one hundred years, as the tale goes, may have had a disorder of excessive sleepiness. Heidi, the young girl who was taken away from her mountain, was a sleepwalker. Charles Dickens' Mr. Pickwick is the prototypical sleep apnea sufferer.
As we continue to learn about sleep and its relationship to other bodily functions and to environmental factors, it is becoming clear that we must challenge sleep myths for ourselves as individuals, and update the information we impart to our children about what normal sleep is. With this in hand, and with a growing understanding about "disordered" sleep, anyone suffering from inadequate, abnormal, or unrefreshing sleep will be able to identify it as abnormal and seek appropriate help.
Though we may not understand why we need sleep, we will likely never be able to do without it. Given that, sleep should be a refreshing experience. Ideally,
"if my soul may find her peace
in sleep and sleep in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created"
If your sleep does not meet your expectations, there may be something wrong, and help is available.