Andrea Macko, Dishing It Out
Between losing that hour over the weekend thanks to Daylight Saving Time, and the kids being on March Break, chances are you're more tired than usual this week (or at the very least, bemoaning how late your teenagers can sleep).
We all know how important sleep is. A few hours become the difference between being a functioning human being and an accident-prone zombie. But research suggests that adequate sleep goes beyond alertness: getting your full requirement on a regular basis is linked to lasting weight loss, as well as increasing one’s defenses from cold bugs and chronic conditions like hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes.
While scientists have just started scratching sleep’s surface, we do know it allows the body and mind to regenerate on the cellular level. We also know we need sleep, and scientists theorize that it’s no small coincidence that practically every living creature sleeps in some form or another.
But, unlike most living creatures, we humans have many means to keep us from nodding off: when was the last time you immersed yourself in something (TV, Internet, a book) only to eventually look up, realizing that it’s way past your bedtime? But there are the other demands which get in the way of a good night’s worth: early hockey practice, enthusiastic nights out, and even shift work.
According to a story in a recent issue of The New Yorker, a 2011 poll suggested more than half of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 experience a sleep problem almost every night, and nearly two-thirds complain that they are not getting enough rest during the week. And we all know from personal experience that we Canadians share a similar experience.
The same article suggests that our token eight hours of sleep a night is merely a product of our industrialized, standardized society; in the olden days, people would sleep in two or more blocks, between dawn and dusk. This internal clock allowed for the disparities between so-called “early birds” and “night owls.” Early birds got the bulk of their sleep earlier in the night, while night owls dozed more during the early morning.
Between a demanding toddler and the unpredictable existence of funeral home ownership, I treasure what sleep I do get. Charlotte has forced me to become a morning person, but every once in a while, the old night owl in me sits on my shoulder like the proverbial devil. Take this weekend: despite knowing I’d lose a precious hour, I recklessly stayed up to watch Saturday Night Live for the first time in years (Justin Timberlake was hosting; his appearances are legendary).
Turning off the tube after midnight actually meant I got into bed closer to 2 a.m., Daylight Saving Time. Of course, Charlotte kept to her clockwork schedule, waking up around 5 for a diaper change and then at 7:30 for the day. In short, not enough sleep for this night owl. Adding to my crankiness was the knowledge that Sunday’s weather was going to be spectacular, and I didn’t want to waste it in a comatose state.
Naps aren’t an ideal way to catch up on sleep, but they help. I felt a little less scrambled after a mid-morning constitutional. What really did the trick was a jog in the warm afternoon sun. Exercise can increase alertness but, according to the non-profit US-based National Sleep Foundation, it’s also the thing that can help everyone sleep better at night. Studies show that while regular exercisers don’t sleep longer, they do sleep better; even a gentle stroll or yoga class helps lengthen the period of deep sleep that is most restorative.
If you’re still shaken up by losing that hour, the National Sleep Foundation says to avoid bright lights close to bedtime, and keep your bedroom cool and relaxing (no computers or television). The Foundation’s key advice is to simply give in to your sleepiness and go to bed earlier; no point in being one of those superheroes crowing about how little sleep they need when it’s a matter of health.
When you’re tired, the first instinct is to reach for comfort food. These energy bites hit all the marks but are more wholesome, and a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen.
No-bake energy bites
1 cup dry oatmeal
2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tbsp. chia seeds (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Thoroughly blend all ingredients in a medium bowl. Let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour then roll into balls about one inch in diameter. Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to one week. Makes 20 to 25 balls.