Underneath my yellow skin

Sickness of the Mind–and Body

I’m on the mend, and it’s not been a smooth road back to recovery. I have the sniffles right now, but I’m hoping it’s just because Shadow was sleeping on me during the night. Every time I’m sick, there is a moment when I feel like I could either get better or get worse. It’s an actual definable moment, and I felt it yesterday. I know I’m getting better because my sleep is getting worse. For whatever reason, my body decides that the only time it will allow itself to get the appropriate amount of sleep is when I’m sick. Side note: I heard neuroscientist, Matthew Walker, an expert on sleep, on NPR. He’s a big proponent of getting eight hours of sleep a night, which is an anathema to me. He was saying how if you get much less than that, your chance of catching a cold is (and since I was just listening, I may not have gotten the percentages exactly right) three to four times more likely. In addition, if you’re not well-rested before getting your flu shot, you only absorb 50% of the antigens.

Most people know about the connection between sleep (lack thereof) and susceptibility to illness, but I didn’t realize it was so stark. He is an evangelist about getting eight hours, but I had to leave before I could read the tips about how to get better sleep. I know the usual, don’t use electronics before bed (which is not something I’m good at), don’t stay in bed if you can’t sleep (I don’t actually sleep on the bed), don’t nap (which I normally don’t). The last, he explains in an article I looked up is because if you nap, you won’t be able to sleep fully later. Which makes sense, of course, but it’s the wrong way around. Most people don’t nap with the intent to wreck their sleep later–they nap because they are so tired, they simply have to sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, and simply telling people to sleep more at night isn’t going to work. Dr. Wheeler knows that, which is one reason he despairs. Being sleep-deprived is such a badge of honor in our society (in many societies), that many people won’t get a good night’s sleep because it would make them look like slackers.

The thing is, I’m not against sleep because I think it’s immoral–sleep is against me. I’ve never been an early to bed, early to rise type. I never went to bed before midnight, even when I was eight or nine. Dr. Wheeler also talks about how criminal it is that school starts so early, and I agree. He said it would be best to start at ten, but that probably won’t happen. Even when I had to get up early, I could never go to bed before midnight–ever. In my first year at college, I had a 7:45 a.m. class. I rarely went to bed before four in the morning, and on those days, I was a mess. I remember one morning, I got up and couldn’t find my alarm clock. It was a portable one, and it was nowhere in the room. I opened the mini-fridge to get a Diet Pepsi (I drank six a day at that time), and there was my clock. I was continually sleep-deprived, and every time I went home for the holidays, I would sleep for fifteen hours the first day I was home. Then, I’d get as sick as a dog for the rest of the stay. So, yeah, I know about the link between sleep and the immune system.

I get frustrated when I heard, “You should sleep eight hours a night” because while I know that’s ideal, it’s not very helpful. Yes, I know I should get that much sleep, but I simply cannot. I’ve tried everything, and while I’m practicing the best habits now, I’ve pretty much given up on it. Taiji is the only thing that has helped, but it’s slow-going. I used to sleep four hours a night on the regular. Now, it’s more like six to six and a half, which is miles better, but still not optimal. I try not to nap, but some days, I simply can’t help it. I never feel better after a nap, though, so I really try to keep it to a minimum.

The other reason I know I’m getting better is because I’m cranky as fuck. Crankier than fuck, I should say. When I’m almost better but not quite fully recovered, everything annoys me more than usual. I have to keep a tighter rein on my inner snark lest it manifest itself outwardly. I’m hoping that this is truly recovery and not a setback. Only time will tell.


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