The Science of Sleep

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What a whirlwind of a week it’s been. Due to the heart-wrenching Ebola outbreak in West Africa, our upcoming trip to Ghana has been cancelled. Touch A Life, in conjunction with our amazing Medical Advisory Board (comprised of five physicians and one pharmacist, all of whom are equipped with immense knowledge, wisdom, and international travel experience), has decided to cancel the trip for the protection of the children in our care and for the safety of our travelers. Though Ghana is currently not one of the affected areas, its proximity to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea prompted our staff and medical team to have concerns about volunteers traveling to the region. The Ebola virus has not spread to Ghana (so the children and staff at our Care Center are safe and healthy) but the Center for Disease Control recently placed Level 3 restrictions on the affected countries, asking travelers not to take any nonessential trips to those spots. After tons of prayer and deliberation, we agreed that it was unnecessary for our large team of volunteers to take this journey, less because we are worried about the disease itself (though we are still praying hard for those affected, as Ebola is very serious and scary) and more because we are concerned about the instability of the region and the high likelihood of travel delays, flight cancellations, and quarantines in the areas surrounding Ghana. You can learn more about Ebola and the impact of this outbreak, the largest recorded instance in history, from this excellent NPR podcast – this gave me so much additional context for exactly why this specific outbreak is threatening the stability of West Africa. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the people and communities who are fighting the spread of this disease, as well as to the brave medical personnel who are fighting alongside them.

On a (semi) lighter note, did anyone else have to read The Hot Zone in high school? The book, about Ebola and its horrifying ability to spread rapidly, was terrifying on its on but even more so when the subject matter actually came to the forefront of our lives last week. Though Ebola has been present in many regions in Africa since the 1970s, last week’s outbreak was extremely notable because the disease, normally contained to rural areas, hopped into urban areas and across country borders, exponentially increasing its ability to spiral out of control. As you can imagine, this shift led to many sleepless nights as our staff prayed fervently for friends in West Africa, for guidance about the decision to cancel the trip, and for the safety of the children in our care. It also brought back the hilarious nightmares I had while reading the book in high school, which were so vivid then that I can still remember them to this day (let’s just say they involved a blue tiger, my history teacher, and a few non-threatening dinosaurs). I like to read before bedtime, as it makes me so relaxed, but I normally stick to books that don’t make me scared to go to sleep, things like chick lit, faith-based books, and magazines. While reading my most recent issue of Real Simple last week, I came upon a fascinating article about sleep called “While You Were Sleeping.” The premise of the article was this:

“‘A lot of people think of sleep as an inert state, like a laptop switching off,’ says Jessica Payne, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Sleep, Stress, and Memory Lab at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana. ‘But during sleep, your mind and body are actually highly active with processes critical for your physical and mental health.” In fact, your body even performs certain tasks more efficiently and thoroughly when you’re at rest than when you’re alert.

This felt like a personal victory to me, as I’m one of those people who requires a good 10 hours of sleep per night and loves any article that justifies this behavior. I can (and do) go on less, but I know my optimal performance comes after a really restful night’s sleep, so I silently applauded the article’sΒ author, Jennifer King Lindley, for penning such a great piece that didn’t just regurgitate everything we already know about sleep (including the things that we wouldn’t have to read about to know – like, duh, if we get a good night’s sleep, we know that we don’t feel tired the next day) but instead focused on some new, interesting points that illustrate how sleep makes us more efficient, thoughtful, diligent people. The main points of the piece emphasize that:

  1. Sleep heals.
  2. It enhances memory.
  3. Sleep boosts creativity.
  4. It keeps weight in check.
  5. Sleep helps conquer stress.

To those of you who think this topic is a little tired (badda bing), pick up a copy for yourself – this article is worth the read. And if you aren’t crazy about it? At least maybe it will put you to sleep.

Image via Modern Hepburn

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3 thoughts on “The Science of Sleep

  1. I’m thankful for your decision to postpone your trip and I will continue to pray for the people of West Africa. I read the article in Real Simple, too! Fascinating.

  2. hi! I’ve been trying to find that article on line to no avail (someone ripped a page out of the copy I’ve got :(.
    Do you know of a link?
    Your blog is all I’ve found πŸ™‚

    I think my entire family is experiencing a sleep deficit…

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