Friday, March 11, 2016

Feeling Sleepy?

Most areas of discipline become a conflict between simple and easy.  To lose weight is simple – eat less and exercise more.  Is it easy? – Certainly not.  To avoid being ambushed by unexpected bills and to ultimately retire comfortably and securely is simple – don’t spend more than you earn.  That too is not easy for most people.  That’s why the initial challenge of discipline is so often compounded by those smooth sales pitches about some magic formula, pill or secret the banks, credit card companies or Wall Street don’t want you to know.  These scams prey on people who understand the simple answer but decide it’s too difficult to carry out.

The dimension of discipline is often associated with diet, finances, smoking, drinking and gambling.  But there are so many other simple things that we find excuses for or just skip rather than just doing:  applying sunscreen, buckling seatbelts, flossing, etc.  Another often-overlooked area is getting enough sleep.  Here again the answer is simple for both adults and children – have a regular bedtime and stick to it.

The news media reminds us that once again Americans struggle.  This NBC story (among others) reports:  “More than a third of Americans say they're not getting enough sleep, putting themselves at risk of obesity, heart disease and other issues.”  This particular warning comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  “CDC experts looked at health surveys covering more than 400,000 Americans.”  That is a very large sample size, which is good; but the data comes from self-reporting, which is not as reliable as observation, and it may be exaggerated in either direction. 

Nonetheless, here is another problem area related to discipline.  The researchers give the answer:  “Lifestyle changes such as going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; and turning off or removing televisions, computers, mobile devices from the bedroom, can help people get the healthy sleep they need."  And how many other proposed solutions to health problems begin with the words “lifestyle changes”?  This is the discipline link.

A separate study from the University of California at Irvine just a day or two earlier linked lack of sleep with the use of social media.  The sample was much smaller and limited (76 students), and they were not trying to blame Facebook for the problem.  They just point out how easy it can be, when someone is very tired, to find refuge in such an undemanding, lightweight distraction.  Furthermore, the light shining in your eyes is more stimulating than relaxing.

But the CDC's main concern is about the big-picture problems.  “Sleep deprivation has ripple effects through an economy, leading to greater incidence of workplace accidents and car crashes. If experts…can better understand how sleep deprivation affects people, better products and better technology can be utilized to alleviate it.” 

Yes, there are those societal consequences, plus lower productivity.  Yet here again we have experts turning to technology to fix a problem that is simple (but not easy) for us to solve ourselves.  The magic technology will take care of it and we don’t have to do the hard work.  Is going to bed at the same time each night; rising at the same time each morning; removing the electronics from the bedroom really hard work?

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