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Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007 01:00 am

No rest for the wicked

She’ll sleep when she dies

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Untitled Document When you get information that will forever change your life, the moment tends to crystallize in your memory. Years later, you can recall where you were, who gave you the news, and exactly how you reacted. I have such a distinct recollection about the day I learned that most people spend a full third of their lives sleeping. I was sitting at my desk, the last one in the first row, when my teacher, Mrs. Miller — who had long dark-red hair and wire-rimmed glasses (crystallized memory, see?) — casually mentioned this appalling fact to the class. Of course, anybody with a grasp of basic math would have already figured out that if you sleep eight hours per night, you’re slumbering one-third of a 24-hour day and that if you do it every night you end up spending a significant portion of your life snoozing. At that point, however, I hadn’t learned multiplication and division; I was only in the third grade. I don’t remember why Mrs. Miller was talking about sleep, but I do recall thinking that she sure seemed nonchalant about this huge waste of the limited time we human beings have on this planet. More than that, I remember my reaction: I promised myself that such a fate would never befall me. To this day, I have kept that pledge. I sleep less than anybody I know. My mother should take some of the blame. Always up with the sun, she had a disparaging term for anybody who slept later — she called them all “slugabeds.” Consequently, I trained myself to wake up early, even on weekends. Of course, when I became a teenager, it was cool to stay up late — so I did that, too. In high school, I realized that it was possible to go all night. In college, I discovered I could stay up two nights in a row — sometimes even three. This practice seemed necessary: I carried a full load of classes, held a demanding work-study job, and enjoyed some semblance of a social life. I burned the candle at both ends and in the middle. After graduation, I developed a habit of working long hours at my job and getting up early to exercise. When my kids came along, the exercise decreased as the nighttime hours were whittled away by little creatures who needed feeding, changing, or comforting. For a few years I kept my alarm set to go off at 4 or 4:30 almost every morning so that I could get my older son to predawn skating practice. Of course, this lifestyle has a way of catching up with me. Just because my schedule doesn’t allow a full night’s sleep doesn’t mean that my body goes along with the plan. I’ve been caught dozing at my desk, in college classrooms, in city-council chambers, and in courtrooms. I’ve fallen asleep talking to people on the phone; I once nodded off during an interview. I almost always fall asleep during movies — especially in good films, unfortunately; dreck such as Rocky VI keeps me wide awake. Over the years I’ve developed all sorts of strategies for dodging the sandman. Yes, I drink coffee, but that’s just a starting point. I also swig energy drinks instead of soda and chew caffeinated gum. When I’m really tired, I take a Vivarin tablet, wash it down with Red Bull, and chase it with a wad of spearmint-flavored Mad Croc. Half the time, though, I nod off anyway. Perhaps that’s why my boss asked me to read this week’s cover story, about the ill effects of sleep deprivation. I told him sure, I’d be happy to read it . . . in just a little while. First, I gotta take a nap.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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