DALLAS – This is a meeting of the Philosophical Society of Texas, an annual gathering of the 150 smartest men and women in Texas. (I am here as the Designated Dummy.) It was founded Dec. 5, 1837, in the Capitol of the Republic of Texas at Houston. The goal was to unite the efforts of Texas thinkers, and its original members included Sam Houston, Mirabeau B. Lamar (president), Ashbel Smith, Anson Jones and others who have cities, counties and universities named after them. After a 100-year down time, the Society was reborn in 1937.
This year’s gathering deals with research and discoveries in medicine and science. The current panel up on the stage consists of four Nobel Laureates, discussing possible breakthroughs in cybro-thermal anti-coagulate medicines with supplements, or something like that. Everyone around me, next year’s Nobel laureates, are busily taking notes. (Like I said, this is a brainy group.) The interlocutor asks: “And what supplements do you take?” A pause. “Sleep,” says one. The others nod in agreement. Huh? It seems getting enough sleep is important, especially if you want to win a Nobel Prize. Between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer sleep disorders, making the sleep-health industry a $40-billion-a-year business. (Note that drug stores are full of sleep helpers.) Houston recently hosted a Sleep Show, with 10,000 attendees.
Academia is right there in the sleep biz. The Texas State Sleep Center is located at the Texas State University-Round Rock. UH has the Sleep Anxiety Center of Houston. The UT System has sleeping studies and facilities at UT-Southwestern in Dallas, UT-San Antonio, the UT Health Science Center in Houston and at the main UT campus in Austin, where they are deep into sleep. We must suspect that the Longhorn chiefs got worried that their students were dozing off in class, then got really worried when the professors started nodding off, too. The leaders determined, “Studies show that students who receive 7-9 hours of sleep had higher grade point averages than students who didn’t get 7-9 hours of sleep regularly.” The school also came up with “Common Misconceptions about Sleep.” See if you believe these myths the UT folks provided. Hey, you think measles vaccinations cause cancer, broken legs and acne. Clip and send this list to your college student.
Myth 1: “Caffeine and other stimulants help me push through that last hour of work, but it won’t affect my sleep later.” Wrong. It’s true that stimulants may help you stay awake or alert for a given amount of time, but the substances stay in your body long after that initial jolt. If you drink 12 ounces of soda at 7 p.m., 50 percent of the caffeine will still be in your system at 11p.m.
Myth 2: “Alcohol will help me sleep.” Wrong again. While alcohol consumption may initially help some people fall asleep, it interferes with a restful night’s sleep by interrupting the sleep cycle and increases the number of times you will wake up during the night. Passing out is not the same as going to sleep.
Myth 3: “I can ‘catch up on sleep on the weekends.” Another myth. While weekends offer opportunity for a few extra hours for zzzz’s (especially if you’ve stayed up later than usual), try to keep your weekend wake time within an hour or two of your weekday wake time. If you’re feeling tired during the day due to lack of nighttime sleep, experts recommend scheduling a nap in the early afternoon.
Myth 4: “If I sleep, I’m missing out on valuable study time.” A final myth: Planning ahead can help you avoid all-nighters. In fact, getting 8 hours of sleep the night before a test has been shown in studies to be more beneficial to actual test performance than staying up all night to study.
Did you notice in Myth 3 an afternoon nap may be a good idea? A lot of famous people thought so, like Lyndon B. Johnson, who could get by on a few hours sleep at night, but always napped in his pajamas. Napoleon Bonaparte, John F. Kennedy and Stonewall Jackson napped daily. So did Ronald Reagan and Salvador Dali. Benjamin Franklin claimed to need just four hours. Barack Obama gets by on six hours. Winston Churchill’s nap was non-negotiable: “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.” Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher only needed about four hours of sleep a night — with no nap. Scientists have discovered a “Thatcher gene” which allows some people to survive on far less sleep than is recommended. 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.”
Experts say we shouldn’t be in bed eating crackers or skinning coyotes. “Beds are only for sleeping and sex.” But how much sleep do we need? It depends on which study is studied. The National Sleep Foundation (yes, there is such an organization) says newborns up to 3 months old need between 14 and 17 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 4 to 11 months old should get 12-15 hours, toddlers 1 to 2 years old need 11-14 hours, those 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours, children 6 to 13 years should get 9-11 hours, teenagers 8-10 hours. (I suspect that parents of teenagers can tell us that their offspring go to bed, then pull out their iSomething and play with them till dawn.) Adults 7 to 9 hours.
Back to the philosophers. “The inter-mingling of trans-particles of an absolute…” Huh? I must have dozed off.
Ashby sleeps at email@example.com