By Lisa Sugarman
When you really dissect mankind, there are a few things that we all, as people, have in common that transcend race and ethnicity and religion—we all eat; we all drink; and we all sleep.
Regardless of what language we speak or what region of the world we’re from, whether we have kids or not, whether we work fifteen hours a week or sixty, the one thing we can all relate to is our need for good, solid, rejuvenating sleep. For some of us, though, the challenge is how to get it.
Now there are the people who have their sleep issues on the front end, and can’t manage to fall asleep. And then there are the people, like me, who have no trouble whatsoever falling asleep, we just can’t stay asleep. Either way, we’re always in what’s called sleep debt. That’s because it’s impossible to bank sleep. Once you lose it, it’s gone. And the thing is, those of us who are practically bankrupt because of how deep we are in debt, still have to keep moving forward, regardless of how empty our tank is.
Me, I’ve had sleep issues for a good chunk of my adult life. At least for almost the last eighteen years, which suspiciously coincides with the birth of my oldest daughter. Not that I’m pointing fingers, but…
I mean, I’m not an insomniac or a sleep walker or a sleep eBayer, like some people. My problem, like millions of others, is staying asleep. Regardless of what time I shut my eyes, I’m up four hours later, all business and ready to go. It’s pretty annoying, to be honest. Because once my body clock reaches the four-hour mark, whatever time I nod off, it’s had enough. No matter how badly my head wants to stay squished into my pillow, I physically can’t sleep any more. Because once I’m up, I’m up.
For me, a typical night involves playing little mind games inside the black labyrinth of my head, trying to drift back into some stage of REM sleep. I’ve done the sheep-counting thing which, quite frankly, is ridiculous. They always end up running around in like fifty different directions and they’re impossible to count. It’s too chaotic.
And I’ve tried everything you could think of to break the cycle. I’ve popped Benadryl; I’ve tried herbal tea; I’ve done warm milk, which, for the record, is nauseating. I’ve tried music; I’ve tried Melatonin; I’ve tried reading. Short of cracking myself over the head with an aluminum bat, nothing works. (I’m saving that option, though, for an emergency situation.)
But the interesting and slightly kooky thing is that I very rarely, if ever, get out of bed or turn on the TV or pick up a book. (I know, it sounds ridiculous.) But the thing is—and my mother-in-law gets it because she does the exact same thing—just in case I end up falling back asleep, I wanna be ready for it.
Now since this has been such an ongoing issue for me for so much of my life, I’ve done some pretty extensive research on sleep over the years and learned more than a few fun facts. Like, for instance, according to Scientific American, I happen to be one of the chosen few born with a rare genetic mutation on my DEC2 transcription facilitator. In English, that means I’m what’s called a Short Sleeper. Yup, it’s true. I have an extra chromosome that somehow allows me to function normally on four hours of sleep a night. See honey, I told you I wasn’t like all the other girls.
Clinically speaking, most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Only about five percent of the population can get by on six hours. Then there are the short sleepers, like me, who get an average of four. But I like to try and focus on the upside of things whenever I can, so the way I figure it, when you tally up the amount of our life that we spend asleep, which is roughly a third, I’m actually ok with the fact that I sleep less than the average person. It tacks a little extra time onto the backend of my life, so I consider it a fair tradeoff.
So while an eight-hour night’s sleep will probably always elude me, at least I’ve got that special chromosome going for me which makes the sleep I do get very efficient. And no one loves being efficient more than me. Least I’ve got that going for me.
As far as the rest of you with sleep issues are concerned—whether it be from insomnia, parenthood, or any of the other seventy-eight types of sleep disorders—at the very least now you can take comfort in knowing that as bad as you might have it, there are millions of people right there with you. And, at least you’re probably not a short sleeper. So you’ve got that going for you. And that’s something, right?