The Importance Of Sleep

How important is it that we get a 40 winks at night?  A recent study of “astronauts” who were on a simulated mission to Mars gives us some guidance on that question.

Mars is far away, and a trip there would require astronauts to be cooped up aboard their spaceship for months, without natural day-night cycles.  The Mars500 project sought to test what the effect of such an extended time in space might be, so it selected astronauts using standard criteria, isolated them, and communicated with them solely through time lagged communications that approximated the delay in communications between Earth and a spaceship on its way to Mars.  During the 17-month simulation, tests of the astronauts were conducted — and the results now being published show how crucial sleep patterns and the daylight cycle really are.

One crew member went from a 24-hour day cycle to a 25-hour day cycle, which meant he was awake and asleep at odd hours in comparison to the rest of his crew mates — and therefore became isolated.  Other crew members began to sleep more and more, and yet another crew member became chronically sleep-deprived and struggled with performance tests as a result.  In short, if a real mission to Mars were underway, sleep issues — and their resulting mental health impact — would have been a significant problem for crew performance and cohesion.  Researchers will be looking at whether a lighting scheme that better approximates our normal daylight-night rhythms might help.

Anyone who has done much travel — or watched Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson in Lost in Translation — knows how tough the effects of jet lag can be.  Imagine if you had to deal with sleep deprivation for months, stuck with the same people in an unchanging environment, without ever seeing daylight.

Now, get some sleep!

Sleep-Deprived

photo-88I like to get a good night’s sleep.

If I can work in about 7 hours of sack time, I awake refreshed and ready to face the day.  If — as is the case this morning — unfortunate circumstances have prevented the usual amount of slumber, it changes me in ways well captured by this realistic sculpture.  My bulging eyes grow large and have the coarse, gritty consistency of sandpaper.   My tongue hangs out, my breath is fiery, and my mouth is pulled back in an unsightly, fang-filled rictus.  I feel so out of sorts, it wouldn’t surprise me to see that I’ve sprouted a deep red dorsal fin and scaly green skin covered with blue polka dots.

In short, when I don’t get enough sleep at night, I feel pretty monstrous.

Barking Into The Night

We’ve had Kasey for a few months now, and mutual adjustments are still being made.  The latest challenging area really hits home, because it’s disturbing our precious sleep.

I don’t know how often Kasey had slept in a crate before she arrived at our house, but I do know that she spent some time in a crate because she came into the family from the Erie County Humane Society.  At first, when she slept with Penny, Kasey was quiet at night.  Then she began to get restless, and we decided to get a separate crate.  She figured out how to escape from the crate, and we would find her in the morning in some odd location.  When we then returned her to the crate, the night-time barking began.

Kasey’s bark is not loud, and it is pitched at a sound register that is just barely distinguishable from the sounds you might hear through an open window.  But it’s like the beginning cries of a newborn who you are trying to train to sleep through the night.  Once you hear it, your brain focuses on the sound, and you can’t ignore it.  It works on your consciousness like steel claws scraping against a blackboard.  You toss and turn, exhausted yet wide awake, eyes dried out, fretting about the fact that you’ve got to get up in five hours — all against the backdrop of that incessant, nerve-jangling barking.  It’s infuriating, and being furious at your dog is not a good thing.

We’ve tried knocking the crate with a baseball bat and giving a stern admonition, which worked with Penny when she had a nightly barking period long ago.  We’ve tried waiting for Kasey to give up on the barking, but she is a stubborn cuss.  We’ve tried returning her to the crate with Penny.  None of those efforts has worked — because, I think, Kasey just doesn’t want to be in a crate.

Now Kish has decreed that we put Kasey in the crate that she can escape, in a nod to Penny’s finely honed sense of crating fairness, recognizing that Kasey will escape and then roam the house (with most upstairs doors closed) until she finds a place to sleep.  That strategy is fraught with peril when it involves a dog that obviously is still getting adjusted and has the ability to leap up onto tables and jump from table to countertop — but last night it seemed to work.  The other option is technological:  we have a device that is supposed to emit a high-pitched sound that only dogs can hear whenever barking begins.  If the current strategy stops working, the dog whistle will be deployed.