There’s a social media hashtag that amuses me, #NapOrWorkout.
Mostly the people who use it are sharing about their drive to overcome the desire to nap and make it to the gym. It’s presented as a struggle. And I get it.
But on Twitter there are a few people who are taking it literally, as an actual choice goal. Like when I was in grad school my roommate had this deal with herself each night she’d either floss or do sit-ups. So the Twitter person is treating nap or workout that way. Each day she pledges to either nap or workout. I kinda love it.
This week in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers published an article analyzing the relationship between artificial light at night (which they call ALAN– hi, Alan!) and increased risk of weight gain among women (they used a large cohort of women for the study). They say that exposure to ALAN does increase the risk of weight gain, and “further prospective and interventional studies could help elucidate this association and clarify whether reducing exposure to ALAN can promote obesity prevention.”
In other words:
As you can imagine (or even saw), the popular press was all over this.
What should we make of this? Before reading the study (yes, I read through the original, so you don’t have to), I thought, “of course they’ll find an association between ALAN and weight gain. Light exposure disturbs and disrupts sleep, reduces quality and duration, etc. We know all this can contribute to weight gain.”
But, it turns out that their results are (as usual, in science) really complicated. Here are some of the complex results:
The association between ALAN and increased risk of weight gain was stronger for women with lower BMIs (< 25 and <30) than women with higher BMIs (>30);
The association between ALAN and increased risk of weight gain was stronger for women who ate healthier diets and for women with increased leisure-time physical activity;
Women who slept with no light in the room, who ate a less healthy diet and/or who did less leisure-time physical activity had increased risk for weight gain;
So women who weighed less or who ate more so-called healthy diets or who were more physically active were more at risk for weight gain from light sources while sleeping than those who weighed more, ate less so-called healthy diets, or who were less physically active. Could this be because the added factor of light pales, as it were, in comparison to other potential factors? Reading the details did not shed much light for me here. The researchers also didn’t offer an explanation.
Here’s a less surprising result from the article:
Women with greater exposure to ALAN had higher mean BMI… and were more likely to be non-Hispanic black. They were less likely to have consistent waking and bedtime patterns and more likely to have less sleep, take a longer time to fall asleep, wake up at night, and take naps. They also used less sleep medication.
How we sleep and how we eat are related in a bunch of ways. How we sleep and how our bodies respond are also related in a bunch of ways, which include socio-economic, geographic and other external features outside of individual eating and activity behaviors. Women who sleep less, have less control over their sleep schedules, have regular sleep disruption, but don’t take sleep medication are bound to experience increased stress and other behavioral effects. And we know that black women, according to many sources, are more likely to sleep less and also suffer from sleep disorders (like sleep apnea), even controlling for BMI.
The researchers know this, too, and admitted as much (although they focused on individual factors rather than the social determinants of health, which I think diminishes their analysis):
We were unable to disentangle the temporal relationship between exposure to ALAN and other factors, including unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and other sleep characteristics. Thus, we cannot exclude the possibility that the association between ALAN and obesity is not causal, despite multivariable adjustment and various sensitivity analyses.
So no, ALAN is not good for us (sorry, Alan!). But the reasons why we sleep with light vary a lot, depending on the constraints and realities of our lives. We may have control over some of these factors, and no control at all over others.
My main takeaway is this: sleeping in darkness is a necessity, but for many of us it’s a luxury we can’t have as often as we might need it. Here’s to blissful darkness for everyone.
Readers, do you sleep in darkness? Do you use a sleep mask? I do. Do you want light in your room when you sleep? Do you have to deal with light sources that you’d rather not? Do light sources provide comfort or company? I’m curious about what your habits are.
Fitness friends I do love talking about health, wellness and fitness as they intersect in my life.
Last fall I had gone to my family doctor about my snoring. I was referred to a sleep clinic. Both at no cost to me as I am a resident in Ontario, Canada. Go public health care!
I didn’t have a great time at the sleep clinic. The setting, the wires digging into my scalp and the pressure of the sensors on my throat triggered a series of panic attacks and migraines. Ya. It sucked.
The downside of public health care is it took 4 months to get my results. Despite only sleeping for just over 2 hours there was enough data to diagnose me with sleep apnea.
I had hoped it would be more of a manage my allergies type of solution to help reduce swelling in my airway.
The doctor recommended Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). I had a vague sense of what the machines were and was not prepared to take that on.
I asked about options. There’s a dental appliance that is more expensive and less effective. Surgery works in some cases 50% of the time. After a quick look at my nose and throat the specialist didn’t recommend surgery. Apparently the floppy throat bits they usually remove aren’t the ones causing my type of snoring. DAMNIT
The doctor outlined the dangers of sleep apnea both to help me understand why some intervention was required and to motivate me not to wait.
Friends, I have pretty serious sleep apnea, the kind that causes heart attacks in your fifties, and I was super upset. I was supposed to go into work after my appointment but ended up taking the day off and getting my CPAP.
The adjustment phase has been challenging. I’ve experienced every possible side effect from sinus infections, rashes on my face, condensation in the tube, swollen face, actually getting significantly less sleep. GAH!
Plus, the mask, is, well….not an invitation for spontaneous intimacy.
I’m motivated to getting used to this therapy for my health. My partner is committed to learning more and helping me advocate for my health. He got me a Red Velvet Cake in celebration of taking a positive step for my health. Through the awesomeness of social media I have tapped into a deep well of peer support of friends who I never knew used CPAP.
I’m thinking back to how much mornings have truly sucked over the past decade and kicking myself for not seeking help sooner.
The sleep clinic doctor mentioned that the degree of sleep apnea I have is highly correlated to weight gain and type 2 diabetes. He explained that oxygen deprivation suppresses metabolic rates as well as reducing the energy you have to do the activities you love.
So I’m committed to my health and I’m very fortunate that 75% of the cost of my machine is covered by my public health care. The remainder will be covered by my private insurance.
I had a twinge of ableist reaction to learning that sleep apnea is clustered under disability funding. I don’t feel disabled by my sleep apnea. I’m annoyed. I’m tired. I’m fortunate my daily activities weren’t drastically impacted.
The CPAP machine is a necessary assistive device in my life, like my night guard, my reading glasses, insoles and my blood pressure medication.
I’m hopeful that once I adjust to this change I’ll feel more rested and able to do more of the things I enjoy in life.
Currently I’m saving up to buy a portable power source so I can continue to enjoy off grid camping in the near future.
We blog about sleep and rest quite a bit around here. I’m keenly aware of this topic right now because I’m 10.5 time zones away from home, with disrupted sleep, and I’m taking a time out from my Around the Bay Training to go easy on my knee/IT band issue.
Approaching my trip to India last week I had an empty tank, a backlog of work I couldn’t get done even if I’d had no sleep, and my left knee was bothering me because of an IT issue from my long distance runs for Around the Bay training. The unsettled weather (freezing cold, then snow, then freezing rain, then rain) didn’t help. I hadn’t felt that run down since last winter. I literally couldn’t wait to get on the plane so I could zone out for the next 20 hours while enroute.
This is why the above message from the Nap Ministry speaks to me. The pace. It’s not human. And yet I can’t seem to slow down for any appreciable length of time unless I get sick, travel (and even then, it’s not always to a slower pace), or hit the wall in such a way that I get a case of the “eff-its.” India happened as a convergence of the second and third of these possibilities, with “sick” likely to follow soon if I hadn’t taken off.
What causes me (us?) to go go go like this when we know it’s too much? I know I fall prey to the idea that I have to do it or I’ll let people down/be a failure/reveal myself to be a pretender — pretending to be on top of things, pretending to be good at what she does, pretending to be smart and effective, pretending… I try to keep up so I won’t let people down and won’t let people see me down.
But we’re not machines. The Nap Ministry has reassured us that we are enough. We get to rest. And in that spirit, after a very long day of sight seeing yesterday that included the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, with a combined time of over four hours on our feet, I took a time out this morning to stay in my hotel room. Granted, I stayed in to do some work, but I also needed a bit of a retreat.
It felt self-nurturing and right to come back to my room after breakfast, read a few student papers, and then curl up under my covers for another hour before meeting up with people at 1:30.
My knee hasn’t bothered me since I left. I’ve had enough sleep the past couple of days. I’m still behind on work. But I’m feeling more rested today than I did the day I left. To me that’s a win.
Are your sleep and rest adequate? If so, what’s your secret? If not, what holds you back from getting enough?
I was at a meditation workshop recently where the facilitator said that it’s really sad how we glorify busy-ness and how everyone encourages us all the time to do more and more and more and how rest and downtime and naps are almost regarded as guilty pleasures, not birthrights.
As I pondered her words, I realized that I’m fortunate in that I have surrounded myself (mostly) with people who do not support the glorification of being over-busy and who think rest and leisure and naps are good. And it’s lucky for me because I have often struggled with permission to rest. I have a more more tendency.
And yet naps are among my favourite thing in the world. I really enjoy being on vacation because I almost always allow myself afternoon naps when I am. Totally luxurious. They do feel subversive. And sleep is, in fact, a social justice issue that has a lot to do with race and class. The Atlantic reported some years ago about the racial inequality of sleep.The Nap Ministry talks about naps as subversive acts of resistance against capitalism and white supremacy.
Because sleeping during the day when you could be working!
I know that with working out and training, rest is an important part of it all. Usually, that means not necessarily sleep, but incorporating rest days and active recovery. When Sam and I were in the early days of the blog, doing our Fittest by 50 Challenge (between 2012-2014), I hardly ever got enough rest days into my routine. But now, I put a high premium on that part of my training. For me, it’s not just days off from running or weights (though there is that). but also just taking time-out even from social events. I need that to feel truly restored.
I have discovered since Renald left to go sailing that it is a lot easier for me to fill up all my time. I had a lot more “planned leisure” when he was here because we planned it together and did it together. Hanging with your partner is not social in the same way as other social activities because (ideally, and this turns out to be true in my case), partners who we’ve been with a long time are people who we can most be ourselves with, and so being with them is not a net energy loss.
On Saturday I took an entire day and night to retreat from the world and it felt really restorative. I scheduled nothing and required nothing of myself. I napped in the afternoon (I think it was cold and rainy). After I woke up I luxuriated under the warmth of the covers for a little bit longer.
Rest and recovery for training purposes is all well and good. But adequate sleep, naps, and the like are another level altogether, not just about self-care (though there is that), but about resistance against an oppressive narrative that glorifies being overly busy, relentlessly long work days, and even being in a state of exhaustion (where people compete over how busy and tired they are). They don’t just heal us as individuals. They have the potential to heal on a more global basis.
For those of us (in the Northern Hemisphere) whose jobs change in accordance with the school year, it’s time to get into gear. Classes are starting, school busses are rumbling down the roads, and lesson plans and syllabi are scheduling our lives.
Although I let go of summer with the greatest reluctance, the beginning of fall and the new academic year is always exciting, promising newness and variety and pleasure. It’s like a brand-new box of colored pencils, just for me.
One big downside of the seasonal and work shift is the shift in my sleep schedule. For me, menopausal insomnia always at the ready to obliterate my well-laid morning plans. Lately I’ve had to cancel some morning coffee rides with my friend Pata because I’ve been awake still at 2:30 in the morning. And getting up early anyway means a day in which I can’t concentrate on work tasks with any efficiency. Blech!
To combat it, I do many of the things you’re supposed to do (dark quiet cool room, bedroom just for sleep, try try try not to look at phone in bed, limit caffeine, blah blah blah). I have intermittent success, punctuated by periods of being awake very late and sleeping in late.
I know, this is supposed to be a sleep no-no. We’re supposed to get up at the same time every day, regardless of how much we slept.
Getting up early in the morning has always gotten better press than sleeping late. You know the aphorism by this guy (operative word being “guy”):
Here’s my complaint: some people have different body clocks– we are more active in the evenings, and mostly comatose before noon. I am and have always been one of these people. Yes, for very special occasions (like a 6am bike ride to Niagara Falls with Sam a while back, or a 5am drive to go kayaking in Maine with Janet) I’ll rise early. But this kind of behavior is just not sustainable for me.
The article cites Matthew Walker (the author of a new book, “Why We Sleep”), about how sleep patterns vary.
According to Dr. Walker, about 40 percent of the population are morning people, 30 percent are evening people, and the remainder land somewhere in between. “Night owls are not owls by choice,” he writes. “They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hard wiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.”
When night owls are forced to rise early, their prefrontal cortex, which controls sophisticated thought processes and logical reasoning, “remains in a disabled, or ‘offline,’ state,” Dr. Walker writes. “Like a cold engine in an early-morning start, it takes a long time before it warms up to operating temperature.”
Yep, that sounds about right.
Okay, so we now see that sleep patterns may be strongly determined and very hard to overrule. We knew this already. So, what makes sleep a feminist issue? Glad you asked.
Talking with Tracy this week about sleep made me realize a difference between us. She was asking how I managed to get to sleep before 10. I said I just get into bed. The trick for me then is staying up.
When I’m tired I just fall asleep. I start to fall asleep downstairs sometimes, after supper, after dishes, using my phone playing word games on the sofa. By the time I’m upstairs, teeth brushed, in PJs, I’m definitely ready for sleep.
If I’m up and out past my usual bedtime, I’ll fall asleep on the subway, in the car, sometimes I’ll even doze off over dinner. There’s no question about staying up late.
It’s why sleep is my super power. I sleep on short flights. I can sleep anywhere and everywhere at any time of day. But the downside is that at night I don’t have much choice about it. If I’m tired I fall asleep. I fall asleep during tv shows, listening to books, in the middle of conversations. I try to use my phone in bed but sometimes I fall asleep emailing and it hits me on the head.
Going to sleep isn’t a virtue or even a habit. It happens whether I want it to or not. It’s like an off switch. Mornings are the same with on. I usually wake up pretty quickly and have lots of energy. I think this is just how I’m wired.
How about you? Are there any other falling asleep over dinner people out there?