THE BED – From some far off distant land, before sunrise, there is a strange noise, a wail, a non-stop wakeup call. Oh, that’s my phone ringing. It is conventional wisdom that the phone never rings in the middle of the night with good news. So this must be information of something terrible. Maybe my children have been arrested, caught in a John Deere bailer, named Mister Tattoo of Texas or, even worse, are moving back in. “Happy birthday!” It’s one of my brothers. I glance at the clock, which reads 6:54, that’s in the a.m. The pre-dawn.
Like some people, I prefer to sleep late. This admission brings a condescending sneer from others. “Oh? (raised eyebrow) Stay in the rack till noon? How niiiice.” Or when the phone rings at dawn (my dawn), and the voice on other end questions, “Sorry. Did I wake you?” Sarcasm drips through the receiver. “Not really,” I reply. “I had to get up to answer the phone anyway.” The unspoken accusation from others is that those of us who consider midnight as lunch time and noon as reveille are worthless slug-a-beds who get more sleep than others; we are going beddy-by while the worker drones make the world go ‘round. That is a feel-good, self-pitying thought, but totally untrue. We all-weather night fighters get not a second more doze time, we simply take it at differing periods than most.
But how much sleep do we need; how much do we actually get? It depends on which study is studied. The National Sleep Foundation (yes, there is such an organization) says newborns up to 2 months old need between 12 and 18 hours sleep a day, although most new parents would say 15 minutes is the norm. Going up the age scale, the sleep experts recommend infants get 14-15 hours, those 5 to10 years get 10-11 hours, teenagers 8.5-9.25 hours and adults 7 to 9 hours.
But equally expert researchers at Mayo Clinic say school-age children, and they include teenagers, need more than 8.5-9.25 hours, but a good 10 to 11 hours. No doubt with the advent of iPads, e-mail, Tweeks, twitters and blogs, the average teenager gets by with a half hour’s sleep, usually taken during algebra class. The aforementioned National Sleep Foundation determined that just 25 percent of Americans get at least eight hours of rest on weekdays and that 60 percent of women say they often sleep poorly.
Lyndon B. Johnson was said to have only needed about four hours sleep a night, but he would nap. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was another non-sleeper. It was reported that the Iron Lady would sit up in bed late into the night reading official dispatches and reports, then would tick them off at cabinet meetings the next morning. When conducting experiments, Thomas Edison liked to brag that he slept little, but didn’t mention that he would take naps in his lab. (Little known fact: in the days before Edison invented the light bulb, people slept 10 hours a night. No kidding.)
Winston Churchill was a night owl, starting to work about 11 p.m., but he, too would nap, declaring, “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a notorious late sleeper. When someone observed that the early bird gets the worm, FDR shot back: “I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.”
Here are a few facts to know before we doze off: when it comes to individual hours of sleep needed, the amount is as different as fingerprints. Also, we can save up or catch up on sleep on a regular basis. I have a friend who gets by on very little sleep Monday-Friday, then sleeps for hours during the weekends. Sleep deprivation can make you fat – your appetite increases the less you sleep – and increases the risk of diabetes and heart problems.
On the other hand, some research has found that long sleep durations (nine hours or more) are also associated with increased illness, accidents and death. Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. So avoid watching TV, using a computer, reading or making model submarines in bed. Here’s a bulletin: “If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.” “Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.” Did we pay for these studies? Incidentally, you heard about the guy who dreamed he was eating giant marshmallows, and when he woke up his pillows were gone.
Back to those of us who sleep late, or try to. It seems that society frowns on such slackers. Outside interferences constantly intrude on our late morning snoozing: jury duty, doctor’s appointments, school buses with horns putting out decibels equal to the QE II on a collision course, and garbage trucks. Is there anything on earth as loud as those diesel beasts? Garbage trucks produce engine noises that would put an Abrams tank to shame. They pick up cans, loudly dump them, then slam the cans down on the street. For good luck the trucks grindingly compact the last two blocks’ trash into a lump the size of an ice chest, and always do it right in front of my house. I know if I complained, the driver would ask, “You were asleep? How niiiice.”
One study found that night owls are more creative. Artists, writers, and poet laureates typically are on a high at night, only to crash near dawn and awake at the crack of noon. In one study, “evening people” almost universally aced a standardized creativity test. Their early-bird brethren struggled for passing scores. I liked that study, which I cited during my Nobel Prize for Graffiti award ceremony. Early worms in the audience approved.
Ashby snores at email@example.com