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Tommy Druen: The value of a good night's sleep

Previous Column: Life lessons from Little League

By Tommy Druen

Sleep and I are not friends. We have had a long, tormented relationship. Sometimes I fight it and sometimes it fights me. And, in the end, neither is better for the victory.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a "night owl." Some of my best moments of creativity come long after most people have turned in for the night. I used to think that was just when I was relieved of distractions. Now, though, I think there is something about the nighttime that resonates with me. There is stillness, quietness, a time when the world seems at peace. It works for me. Or it did.

About three or four years ago I noticed my sleep habits were changing.


I was falling asleep on the couch early in the evenings while reading or watching television, a habit I had chided my father for years earlier, as it was difficult to hear the television over his snoring. I was also getting almost uncontrollably sleepy during the afternoon, struggling to keep my eyes open in situations where I needed to focus. Worst of all, I started getting sleepy while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving is nearly as dangerous as drunk driving. So I knew I had hit a point that I needed to find some help.

Long story short, I tested positive for sleep apnea and get to wear a super-stylish CPAP mask while I sleep. The doctor thought this would relieve all my issues. It didn't. At all. In fact, my problems kept getting worse. I went to another doctor who, after ruling out a series of possibilities, diagnosed me as narcoleptic.

Narcolepsy. I had heard of it all my life. But it was one of those things that you never thought was real, or at least not realistic. Narcolepsy was just supposed to be used for gags in cartoons or slapstick comedies. Rowan Atkinson plays a hilarious narcoleptic character in the far underrated movie Rat Race. To me it was like amnesia or quicksand. Yes, those are real things too, but I've encountered both through the world of Looney Tunes much more than I have in reality. I thought the same would be true with narcolepsy.

The diagnosis must have been right, though, because the medicine I take daily seems to help immensely. However there are those days when I can't stay awake and some nights where I can't fall asleep at all. Like I said, sleep and I are not friends. And, of course, what do I often do when I can't fall asleep? I read about sleep, not that it helps at all, but it has caused me to learn a lot more about the science of sleep, especially the developments that have come about in the past few years.

In just this past year, studies have been released that show people who nap often are more likely to develop fatty livers, adults sleep better together than alone, poor sleep leads to weight gain, high quality sleep can help stave off Alzheimer's, exercising at night causes unrestful sleep, men's sleep fluctuates with the cycles of the moon, and the average adult is sleep deprived at least four nights a week.

What I have found most fascinating, however, is the recommended sleep time for people. As kids we always heard that people needed 8 hours of sleep for proper rest. What science is now telling us that is true, but only for some people. Some adults need as little as 4 hours, while some need as much as 10. Given my feast or famine relationship with sleep, I always felt guilty on the days that I would sleep late. There was this feeling of laziness about me. What I'm realizing now is that my body needs that extra sleep sometimes and its okay. In fact, I'm likely to be more productive in the waking hours if I'm fully rested than if I'm not.

Dr. Matthew Walker, professor at the University of California, is one of the foremost experts on the science of sleep in the world. Putting it succinctly, he wrote, "Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health."

I'm trying to fight my old enemy and make time for sleep with better conditions. It gets the best of me on many occasions, but I've decided to stop stressing about the battles and win the war.


Tommy Druen is a native of Metcalfe County, with roots in Adair County going back to the 18th century. He presently lives in Georgetown, Kentucky and can be reached at tommydruen@gmail.com.


This story was posted on 2022-09-03 08:02:53
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