Oh Sleep, My Old Friend, Where Have you Gone?

Joe Luca

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A 2016 study done by the CDC, indicated that 1 of out every 3 Americans do not get enough sleep. That is, less than the recommended seven hours every night. Considering all that has happened over the past 18 months, I would venture a guess that the percentage of people flipping their pillows, gnawing on bed sheets and engaging in shadow puppet shows on the ceiling has skyrocketed.

According to a more recent survey of Americans in 2020 (as shown on Sleep Foundation), about 50% say they feel sleepy during the day, three to seven days a week.

Which sort of explains the general rise in snark and irritability as displayed on comment sections throughout social media.

Stress can be described as those efforts, caused by others, that are counter to what we are trying to do to survive.

We drive to work to get there on time, clock in and start earning the money we need to live on. But traffic and other drivers get in our way, clog up the roads and make a 30-minute commute take 2 hours, causing us stress and reduced hours of sleep.

Then once we’ve arrived at work, we are engaged in continual combat with organizations, people, communication devices, Internet connections and myriad other distractions that drive us to stay later and later in order to get the same amount of work done.

The constant push back that modern society generates through knowing and unknowing actions, force us to become part of a dance, where every graceful and purposeful step toward known accomplishments is followed by the inevitable lurch backward for no good reason.

Experts are inclined to point to what we are doing that contributes to our lack of sleep. Showing that what we eat or drink, and the resulting levels of obesity and diabetes in America, as a proximate cause for a growing segment of society that are simply put – dragging butt throughout the day.

And maybe they’re right. Maybe we are hitting - In and Out Burgers one time too many during the workweek. Or erring in placing Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on speed dial. Maybe as Americans, we are simply engaging in self-gratification as a sport and failing to look at our long-term health because we are focused too much on what makes us happy today.

But maybe these experts are wrong. Maybe these studies are statistically correct but missing the real reason behind why we can’t sleep at night.

When we feel good about life and ourselves; when the world out there does not feel so menacing, we experience a sense of euphoria. Chemicals in the brain, like serotonin, tell us that we’re safe and doing well. Thus, sleep can come more easily.

But when our environment begins to darken; when the unknowns begin to outnumber the knows and prediction is something just beyond our grasp, we begin to feel anxious. Anxiety levels rise. Stress – the ever-present friction we feel when moving through this world – increases and sleep becomes, less a comfort and more a challenge.

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Comfort Foods

What are they and why do we associate them with our attempt at feeling better?

An article published in 2017 in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science defines comfort foods, as those foods providing “consolation or a feeling of well-being,” especially emotional comfort that’s heightened by our senses of taste, touch and smell.

We eat to survive at a very basic level. But food for most of us is much more than that. It is our connection to the past. Our good times and feelings of security.

Shira Gabriel, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo, says comfort foods hold particular appeal when we’re feeling lonely or rejected, and might even help combat those feelings. Research presented in 2013 at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior even suggests that exposure to stress in our very early childhood increases stress and anxiety in adulthood, along with consumption of comfort foods.

Thus, eating is a reaction as much as it is a need. To both satisfy and distract. To help us cope with a world that is becoming more complicated and demanding.

Sleep is a natural process. It is genetically coded into our DNA to help us repair and recover. We don’t have the option to not sleep. We are programmed to embrace it, enjoy it and whenever possible extend it for as long as we like – because it feels good.

Then why is it evading us more and more? Why are a growing number of people finding it difficulty to find that happy place at night, when the lights are dimmed and the world is bidden a goodnight?

Society as we know it, is not something outside ourselves. We helped to create it. Thus, we can help to change it. It will be as demanding and stressful as we allow it to be.

As an individual we not be able to change the traffic patterns on our freeways, or single-handedly make corporations more responsive to our needs and not just to profit. But as a larger group, over time we can redefine what society should be and how it will react in the future.

For the short-term though recognizing that stressors do exist and that they do exist in increasing numbers outside our ourselves should help us to stop thinking that we are the sole cause of our problems.

We’re not.

Two-hour commutes each way to work will reduce our sleep time at night. Stressful work places will make it harder for us to get to sleep and for our minds to slow down enough so we can find it.

So, when you walk past those magazines at the supermarket that talk about meditation or exercise or other means of becoming less stressful – buy one.

There is no one solution to stress. But there can be one solution for change – believing it can happen.

Without thinking of it as regret – we created the world around us. Therefore, we can re-create it into something closer to what we need. Updating it for the 21st Century.

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To inform, entertain, enlighten and otherwise engage in the age-old practice of storytelling. To be part of the process of keeping all of us informed on what is happening in the world around us and perhaps, if I do my job well enough, bring about change in the way we control our own lives and make the decisions that will impact our future and those of the people we care about.

Los Angeles, CA
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