When sleep is better than sex

Here’s a piece I did awhile back on the importance of sleep and recovery:

Ah, sleep! The pursuit of which remains ever elusive. How many of us say, “We’ll catch up on sleep during the weekend,” only to find ourselves running errands, driving our children around, or seeing to other miscellaneous tasks neglected during the week?

How many of us look forward to that time in gentle slumber, only to find the time spent in sleep rudely interrupted by the morning alarm?

“You know, I was in a traffic jam the other day,” said a boot camp client to a bunch of us recently, “And the other lanes began to move but our lane was held up. So the cars ahead of me starting honking, and one by one, we tried to change lanes. When I got to the next lane and passed the car which was holding everyone up, I was expecting to see the driver on the phone or on an iPad. But he wasn’t. He was fast asleep!”

It’s fast becoming the culture of the Malaysian urbanites to get less and less sleep, especially those on a career fast track. Our employers are known to expect employees to come in early (this shows enthusiasm for the job and initiative) and to leave late (this indicates dedication and commitment to the job).

Those of us with children or possibly aging relatives will find ourselves having to wake up even earlier and sleep even later to care for them. Usually, our own errands and our family and plain old “me time” are not factored into the day or weekend.

Hardly surprising that we’re a bunch of road demons. Sleep deprivation contributes to feelings of irritability, impatience, anxiety and even depression.

According to a health and fitness article by Johnson and Quintana (“The Consequence of Sleep Deprivation” Idea Health and Fitness), lack of sleep also has a bearing on one’s memory, thinking ability, reaction time and (special note to employers) productivity. Furthermore, sleep deficiency can affect job performance, cause unwanted accidents and adversely affect health.

Research by the US military shows that cognitive performance on a task requiring decision-making, short-term memory and mathematical processing declined by about 25% for every 24 hours of wakefulness.

That poor guy in the traffic jam. And how many times have we heard of road accidents occurring because the driver fell asleep? In an extreme case, lack of sleep can cause death or disability on the road. In a less acute scenario, although possibly further reaching, it is a matter of health for the whole nation.

Research links a correlation between obesity and sleep deprivation. Our human growth hormone (HGH), which controls the proportions of fat and muscle in our body, is mostly secreted during the deepest stages of sleep. Sleep deprivation adversely affects HGH secretion.

As we age, HGH secretion decreases because we spend less time in deep sleep. Due to this, research shows that our bodies cannot properly control the proportion of fat to muscle, leading to more fat being stored in the stomach area.

Surely this is something the Health Ministry of the most obese nation in the region should note and address. Surely this is a serious issue if it deals with our workforce, the country’s largest asset.

Another boot camp client said, “There comes an age when sleep is better than sex.” I noted with amusement that everyone ruefully nodded in agreement. But we need sleep, especially those of us who are active.

Sleep deprivation causes elevated levels of the hormone cortisol during the night. This can adversely affect tissue repair and growth. In time, this situation prevents active Malaysians (and other human beings) from properly adapting to training, or could lead to over-training or injuries.

“You wouldn’t believe that my masters thesis supervisor fell asleep while I was talking to her today,” said a friend recently. Oh, yes, I can! It’s become a Malaysian way of life.

First published in the Sun newspaper.

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