Photo: AFP
Sleepiness: A cause of our problems? Get some rest
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Is sleeplessness the cause of our problems? Neither Jews nor Muslims sleep enough

It was about 5 on a recent morning that I heard the call to morning prayers wafting over from Jabel Mukaber, the east Jerusalem community near our new apartment.


The call likely came from a tape recording and not from someone in the minaret, but I imagine someone (numerous someones, most likely) responded to the call.


We can't quite see the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem from our apartment, but I also knew that dozens, if not hundreds, were straggling there for morning prayers, as well.


There is a special quality to early-morning prayers that peak just as the sun strikes the Jerusalem stone in the Old City, and there is a feeling of satisfaction in having done something meaningful before 7 a.m.


But there is a price for such early rising - lost sleep. Sleep that can never be "made up."


Even a cursory review of recent sleep research was enough to open my eyes wide in shock. According to respected researchers and experts:


  • The U.S. National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 poll showed adult Americans averaging 6.8 hours of sleep on weeknights - more than an hour less than they need.
  • Forty million Americans suffer from one or more of the 81 known sleep disorders.
  • A 2004 study found that students who got the least amount of sleep not only had poorer grades, but also reported lower self-esteem and more symptoms of depression.
  • The University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who slept four to six hours a night for 14 consecutive nights showed significant deficits in cognitive performance equivalent to going without sleep for up to three days in a row. Yet subjects reported feeling only slightly sleepy and were unaware of how impaired they were.


Other depressing findings:


  • Sleep deprivation leads to responses that are slower, more variable, and less accurate than decisions made after a normal night of sleep.
  • Chronic "under-sleeping" increases the risk of accidents, may suppress immune function and could lead to heart disease, diabetes or other dangerous health conditions. 


The problem isn't limited to the United States. A German study found that 80 million people in the European Union countries suffer from stress and sleep disorders that have a considerable influence on health.


Research here indicates that 30 percent of the Israeli population reports a high occurrence of insomnia, and the average grade for women is higher than that for men. That said, the prevalence of sleep disturbances among the Israeli population is similar to other Western countries.


The "good" news is the security situation is not the cause of our sleeplessness. In fact, a 1991 study found that the first Gulf War did not make our insomnia worse.


But the consequences of insomnia here are as bad as they are everywhere else, researchers say: poor work performance, fatigue, memory difficulties, concentration problems, car accidents, depression, anxiety conditions, alcohol and other substance abuse, cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, gastrointestinal, and musculoskeletal disorders, impaired immune system function and an increased risk of mortality.


Did I mention: higher risk of mortality, twice as many medical visits and hospitalizations (including from fatgue-related accidents), lower quality of life, problems in family, work and school.


Unfortunately, traditional Jewish practices, which often can improve our lives and health when followed, fail us on this one. According to historian Rabbi Berel Wein, Jewish tradition values holy deeds and Torah study more than sleep.


Rabbis: Sleep when you're dead


The Talmud says "night was created for the study of Torah," according to Wein. Yeshiva students often stay up late studying Torah. Because morning prayers must be recited early, they lose out on a lot of sleep (There are a lot of kollel and yeshiva students the Kotel in the morning.).


According to Wein, the men of the spiritual Mussar movement taught their disciples that there would be plenty of time for sleep in the grave.


Shabbat can be the day of rest and leisure, and so, the Shabbat afternoon nap has become a time-honored custom. But recent research indicates weekend "bingeing" on sleep doesn't make up for the amount "purged" during a sleep-deprived week.


I hesitate to ascribe all of the daily irritants from which we suffer - aggressive and impatient drivers, car accidents, smoking, high levels of heart disease and stress - to a lack of sleep. And it is probably simplistic to suggest our relations with the Palestinians would be better if we all got a little more sleep every night, but the data indicate it wouldn't hurt.


If this piece hasn't put you to sleep yet, I suggest you turn off the computer, lie down, and close your eyes. You are getting sleepy….


Alan D. Abbey is Managing Director of Ynetnews

פרסום ראשון: 09.19.05, 15:22
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