5 Surprisingly Basic Things That Are Depriving You Of Sleep
Sleep deprivation is literally killing us. Some of the reasons for it are obvious and completely our own fault (basically, sleep is boring and staying up late is fun as hell), but even when you buckle down to try to get your eight hours a night, you'll find it isn't easy. That's because there are all sorts of random-ass things that mess up your sleep in ways you'd never have guessed. Things like ...
Most of your insomnia can be traced back to one fact: Humans evolved their awake-sleep cycle over millions of years of monkeyhood before some asshole named Edison (or, more likely, someone else) invented the lightbulb and turned that whole concept on its head. Today, we all still have an internal clock that follows the sun's schedule when it comes to sleep, but work, school, and the need to watch all eight seasons of Psych on Netflix stand in the way.
And then you have time zones, which were invented in the 1880s as a way to make sure everyone was clear about exactly when the trains and steam ships were supposed to arrive. The problem is that they're not all that precise; time zones are hundreds of miles wide, and the sun moves each degree of longitude every four minutes. So, the sun is already down in the eastern part of a time zone way before it goes down in the western part of the time zone.
Lord help you if you're in Spain, but at least you can blame your low productivity on Hitler.
This creates a problem for people in the western part of the time zone, because they are going by the social clock rather than the sun. People are not asleep by the time they were programmed to be asleep, which puts them in a permanent state of social jet lag. It seems like a minor thing, but as you're going to learn in this article, it doesn't take much to turn you from a healthy person into a sleep-deprived zombie.
The solution is fairly simple: Get off all clocks immediately, quit your job, and move out into the wild. Don't bring any food or water; the land will provide for you. Cracked is not liable for any damages caused by your impulse decision to live in nature.
"Damn ... didn't think about the porn."
If you're like most people whose mouths don't closely resemble a sarlacc pit, you probably brush your teeth before you go to bed. But if you're like us, you're probably lazy enough to wish there was some reason not to bother. Well, here's the thing -- it turns out that minty-fresh feeling you go to bed with every night is part of what's making it so difficult to actually shut down.
The problem isn't the brushing itself but the peppermint flavor, which for some reason they decided way back when should be the universal taste of toothpaste. Peppermint oil gives you that cool, fresh, clean sensation you crave, but it's also a stimulant that tests have shown works to enhance alertness, decrease fatigue, and stimulate the central nervous system, three things you don't want to happen when you're trying to sleep.
Santa has Tony Montana piles of the stuff to get all that shit done in one night.
There have been multiple studies about this. In one, researchers stuck a bunch of people in dark rooms and subjected them to various odors. Even after correcting for other factors (like the fact that they were presumably nervous about being trapped in a lightless, strange-smelling dungeon) they found that the smell of peppermint noticeably reduced sleepiness and increased alertness more than other smells did. Another experiment actually tested it as a performance-enhancing substance: When athletes were subjected to a variety of different smells as they worked out, those huffing peppermint had reduced fatigue and increased alertness. They were even able to complete more pushups, run a quarter mile faster, and had better grip strength.
Which at least gives you one option to tire yourself out.
Again, that's great if you're looking for a slight boost before a strenuous task (rub some on your genitals before your next orgy!), but if you're looking to lull your body into a restful slumber, it's probably not a great idea to smear that shit all over your mouth. It's not exactly the equivalent of doing a line of coke before bed, but it's not helping, either. And no, don't skip brushing -- just find a different flavor toothpaste. Though if you've already followed the advice to go live in the wild that's probably moot at this point.
"One problem at a time. I'm trying to figure out how close I can get to those boob-looking beehives."
A Full Moon
Wondering why you cycle through irritating bouts of insomnia every month or so? Throw open the curtains and you might find some asshole outside staring into your apartment and sapping out your sleep mojo. By which we mean the moon. Studies have shown fairly reliably that people don't sleep as well during the full moon, and not just the 46 percent of you that are known to be werewolves.
We know what you're probably thinking -- it's surely because the full moon is basically shining a blue flashlight into their bedroom, with just enough light leaking around the curtains to be annoying. But here's the kicker -- sleep studies conducted in windowless rooms, when the subjects had no idea what the moon looked like, still recorded that sleep patterns change according to the lunar cycle. Not only do they take longer to get to sleep when the moon is full, but they don't sleep for as long, and even the quality of their sleep was reduced by 30 percent.
"If I have to be fully up at 3 in the damn morning, we're all going to be up at 3 in the damn morning."
So, what's the deal? Well, science doesn't really know, because unfortunately it's a lot easier to prove that something is so than to figure out why. Some theories suggest that it's a relic from our hunter-gatherer past. Back when we had to hunt mammoths and saber-toothed deer or whatever, it would have been advantageous to do it during the full moon, when we had the best light. Our biology might have adapted to keep us alert during this time so that we could stab things all night without too much fatigue. And obviously we needed to be awake for when the werewolves came.
If you're experiencing sleep problems and you're looking for some answers, here's one quick test you can try: Take a look at your skin, and compare it to a photograph of James Blunt. Note your results.
At least half of you didn't even notice that this is not actually James Blunt.
What we're trying to say in our roundabout way is that your race has something to do with it -- specifically, black people have more sleep problems. A group of subjects had their brainwaves analyzed and, after correcting for other factors such as depression and illness, it was found that white people sleep around 11 percent better in general than black people.
African Americans also tend to have a decreased level of slow-wave sleep, which is the most important part of the sleep cycle, where your body goes into repair mode and you begin to feel refreshed. On top of that, African Americans tend to sleep for either longer or shorter periods than science deems healthy. Our bodies are fickle jerks, so they dictate a certain amount of sleep each night to stay within the health zone, and that is six to eight hours. Any less than that and you run the risk of obesity and diabetes, but any more and you run the risk of a stroke, so you're paddling along a pretty fine line. Studies suggest that black people tend to either miss the mark at five hours or overshoot it at over nine hours.
"I've nightwatched my way through the R's on Netflix and Hulu."
As for why, well, again it's hard to be sure. One theory is that black people in America tend to be faced with an obscure phenomenon commonly known as "racial discrimination," under which people with darker skin might, for example, be subjected to more pressure than white people in the workplace, leading to longer hours and higher stress, leading to more pronounced sleep problems at home. The only way to find out for sure is to fix this discrimination thing and then run the tests again a bit later for comparison. Let's do that now.
Being In Love
If you're a single person who lies awake at night pining for someone to come and relieve the ache of eternal loneliness, then you can cheer up a little, maybe, knowing that the alternative might be worse. Getting shot by Cupid's arrow can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep at night, thanks to the explosive chemical reaction that love causes in your brain.
Also, due to the massive blood loss. It's an arrow.
Studies on couples in the honeymoon stage of their relationship have shown that, even when hooked up to decidedly unromantic fMRI brain scanners, people in love record decreased levels of serotonin and increased dopamine. Serotonin is the chemical that tells our brain that we are relaxed, content, and fulfilled. Dopamine is the chemical that screams, "HAVE SEX NOW YES, GO GO GO, SLEEP BAD, SEX GOOD, SEX NOW YES!" In short, your brain on love is frantically trying to suppress your sleep instinct to allow more time for boning.
"I try to hook you up and Ambien is the thanks I get? Good luck remembering her birthday tomorrow, asshole."
But it goes deeper than that. If you're sleeping beside someone (whom you presumably care about) who has trouble sleeping, then you also run the risk of developing sleep problems yourself. It's more than just having to put up with your spouse's constant screaming night terrors. Studies were done on couples where one experienced chronic pain and therefore had trouble sleeping. What they found was that the spouse tended to have more trouble sleeping, simply out of empathy. Aw, that's kind of romantic.
"Don't worry, honey; I won't let you be miserable al- oh you're asleep."
The study also showed that, the closer the relationship was, the more trouble the spouse without pain had getting to sleep. And that's not to say that the suffering spouse suffered any sleep deprivation due to their partner -- all of the negative sleep effects were on the partner who didn't have to deal with debilitating pain. Damn, between this and the full moon thing, the people in all those werewolf-based porn novels aren't getting any sleep.
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