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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

By Jeremy Ireland on December 2, 2019 in Other

Russell the love muscle, by Jeremy Ireland.

I have a confession to make. Since recently becoming a dog owner I’ve slowly developed an interest in animal behaviour. In particular, what it is about my dog that makes him do what he does. Like people, each dog has their own thing going on – their own personality, temperament, habits and, of course, their own environment, all of which help shape their nature and, ultimately, their behaviour. There is one thing, however, that my dog does that, in all honesty, makes me slightly envious: he’s an amazing sleeper. He can sleep for 14-plus hours a day. He can sleep with the TV on, the vacuum cleaner going, even through the noise of the construction site across the road. In fact, I’m certain that if a bomb went off he’d open one lazy eye and then fall back to sleep. Jealousy aside, sleep is the one thing we all need and if you don’t get enough it can wreak all sorts of havoc on your health and mental state and can ultimately lead you down the path of insomnia.
But what exactly is insomnia? Well, you may consider it to be the inability to go to sleep. In some respects you’d be right, but it’s more complicated than that. A clinical description would state that insomnia is a chronic condition marked by difficulties initiating or maintaining sleep, lasting for a period of at least one month. It’s fair to say that everyone has some trouble getting to and/or staying asleep from time to time but the clincher is that it does have to be for at least four weeks before you can say, “I’m an insomniac.”
For some perspective, let’s try an experiment. Stay up for as long as you can. If you make 24 hours you’re doing well, if you last two days that’s exceptional. The point is the body needs sleep to stay alive. In extreme cases a total lack of sleep can lead to death. It sounds dramatic but the reality is it’s impossible to voluntarily keep yourself awake.
So, what is it about my dog that allows him to sleep as much as he does? For starters he doesn’t have a phone. He’s a dog so he can’t use one, but you get my point – he has no distractions. When he’s tired he goes to sleep then, when he’s had enough, he wakes up. It’s pretty easy when life is simple and all you have to do is eat, scratch and chew the odd bone, but what my dog does demonstrate is his love for routine. He does the same thing day in, day out. Like clockwork, he sleeps and wakes at the same time every day.
“But I’m no dog, I’m human,” you say, and that’s a fair call, but we both need our sleep and the cold reality is that we humans are not getting enough of it. One third of us are getting less than eight hours per night, with about 20 per cent of us getting less than six. To put another twist on the statistics, in 1942 about half the population was getting eight hours a day, today less than one third of us get that. We are sleeping less than ever and it can be linked to difficulties people are experiencing in everyday life.
If you think you’re in the percentile of those not getting enough sleep it may be time to look at your sleep hygiene. Regardless of what you think, adults need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each day. To get there, consider these tips. Go to bed 8½ hours before you need to get up, i.e. if you get up at 6am, go to bed at 9.30pm (it sounds ridiculously early but you need half an hour to wind down and fall asleep, and be strict on this before your ‘second wind’ kicks in); do not bring your phone into the bedroom, read a book instead; use an old-school clock radio for your alarm, with soft music, to wake you up; avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol; and instead of staying up to watch some crappy dating show, record it and watch it earlier the next day instead.
As for the dog, it’s only midday and he’s completely crashed out without a care in the world. Dogs aside, sleep is critical to cognitive functioning so if you feel like it’s getting away from you please seek some professional help.

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