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April 8, 2008

Sleepless in Carmel Valley

My original intention this week was to lay low for a few days, then post a Diablo preview on Thursday in advance of the race this Saturday. But a couple of other thoughts had been on my mind since the beginning of the week – and then something happened yesterday that seemed to bring a whole post theme together.

Namely, I fell asleep in my dentist’s chair.

I had some dental work done in the afternoon, and as the procedure was drawing to a close, my dentist initiated the following conversation:

Him: Let me ask you something … how much sleep do you get at night?

Me: Not very much.

Him: Would you say like, seven hours? Six?

Me: Um … I’m lucky if I get five.

And that initiated a long lecture from my health care professional about all the dire risks associated with sleeping any fewer than eight hours per night. Nevermind the fact that none of this specifically pertained to the health of my teeth - or that the drill, hose, and vacuum inside my mouth put me in a somewhat compromised position to mount a counterargument. His point was very clear: I'm placing my long-term survivability in serious jeopardy unless I immediately start sleeping at least 3 additional hours every night.

His impassioned stance echoed something I had read a few days earlier: a somewhat ridiculous New York Times article detailing the impending 21st Century pseudo-epidemic of time-constrained computer junkies literally blogging themselves to death.

The short story is that over the past few months, three high-profile bloggers have suffered heart attacks, two of which were fatal. All three were slavishly devoted to publishing a certain number of posts per week, and employing necessary collateral tactics to grow their readership. Nevermind that one of them was 60 years old, and another was 50 – it was the sleep deprivation and nonstop blogging that killed them.

The premise was shocking enough, and the source reliable enough, that mainstream TV media picked up on the story – and by yesterday, CNN was examining the health risks associated with overzealous blogging. And – adding the ridiculous to the absurd - CNN decided to solicit none other than Perez Hilton (the self proclaimed "Queen of Celebrity Gossip") for expert commentary on the issue.

I mean … this all seems more than a little sensational. Didn’t CNN used to be a news station? When did it turn into US Weekly on cable?

My dentist doesn’t have any idea that I’m an ultrarunner or triathlete, and I’m pretty certain that he doesn’t read my blog - although I can’t be absolutely positive about that last one. (Honestly, you never know who is out there. Maybe if he had asked me about Panic at the Disco dropping their exclamation point, I would have been a little more suspicious). All I know for sure is that he’s yet another presumably respected authority who is bugging the heck out of me with this whole sleep deprivation hysteria.

(Besides - you'd think he wouldn't mind my dozing off. If you were a dentist, which would you prefer - a patient who is screaming and squirming, or somebody who holds perfectly still but occasionally snores? Me too.)

As to the reason why all of this “serious concern” bothers me, I can sum my feelings up in two words: necessary evil. And I'm willing to bet that just about anyone reading this can identify with me.

Of COURSE it’s good to get 8 hours of sleep per night (and, on a side note, does this come as breaking news to anyone? It's right up there with "eating more vegetables" on the list of things that everybody knows, but nobody does.), and of course I’d like to get more rest than I currently do. But I can’t honestly say that the required tradeoff is something I’d be happy doing.

Putting it more directly, here are the reasons why I get so little sleep: 1) I wake up early in the morning - sometimes VERY early – to train. 2) I spend a lot of time on the computer at night, whether it’s blogging, writing e-mails, or just cruising the Web. And 3) My wife and I try to spend some time actually talking to each other for a while between the time our kids go to sleep and the time we crash exhausted into bed for the night.

That’s not even counting the evenings when I have to work late, or we attend some school concert or science fair or church gathering as a family. In other words, life is busy. There’s simply not a lot of time for sleep.

But on the whole, it’s a compromise I’m willing to live with, especially when I ask myself which of those things I’d relinquish.

I could give up (or scale back) my training and racing, but that would take away one of my primary joys in life, and might simply open the door to an assortment of other health risks associated with inactivity. Is it healthier to sleep for six hours and run for two each day, or to sleep for eight and run none? An argument could be made either way.

I could decrease my computer time, but eliminating writing would deprive me of my favorite outlet of expression, and the absence of e-mail and the Internet (which has become my main news source) could potentially isolate me from the outside world. Besides, how else would I be able to find cheap trail running shoes?

And option #3 – cutting out on quality time with my wife and family – is a nonstarter. So the question shouldn’t be whether increased sleep is good for you – it should be whether that benefit is worth forfeiting any of those other things that carve away from that sacred 8-hour block.

In my case, falling asleep in my dentist’s chair, drinking 4 Diet Pepsis per day, or dozing off while the rest of the family is watching American Idol is a tradeoff I’m willing to make in order to do the other things I enjoy. Yes, I'm tired a lot - but under the circumstances, that's the way things have to be. And if my dentist, or the New York Times, or CNN (or God forbid, Perez Hilton) don’t approve, I can’t honestly say that it makes no difference to me.

Actually, the whole concept of exhaustion dovetails kind of nicely into my Diablo preview - which I hope to post here Thursday. But now if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed off to bed. I'm due on the trail at 5:30 tomorrow morning.


Addy 4/8/08, 9:35 PM  

as someone who needs around 9 hours of sleep a night (and often gets it when she can!) I cherish the fact that life isn't too busy yet :) I've always loved sleeping and rank it up there along with good food and good runs :) I'm not sure about what I'll do about this serious need for sleep when I have a family and am really busy, but for now, I enjoy it.

Glad you are happy with how you've set your priorities though!

craig 4/8/08, 10:34 PM  

I for one appreciate the fact that you are willing to jeapordize your health to supply us addicted bloggers with the commentary on life, contemoprary culture and running.

Actually I'm not addicted to blogging. It's just the fact that if you are willing to stay up late churning out this stuff I feel obligated to stay up and read what you write.

Danielle in Iowa 4/9/08, 4:41 AM  

I heart sleep. You're a stronger man than I. And I would just be plain mean to everyone if I only slept 5 hours a night :-)

Smithposts 4/9/08, 5:55 AM  

"I usually get 8 hours a night," she said sheepishly. On the other hand, I do not have children. Your dedication to your priorities is impressive and I enjoy reading the result of one.

Backofpack 4/9/08, 8:14 AM  

I generally get around 6 to 6.5 a night. After a couple of weeks of that, I crash - in bed by 9 on Friday, sleep till 6:30 Saturday morning. Then I start the cycle again. The 50 miler took it out of me though and I got several nights of 8 hours plus. Of course, as you so kindly noted, I'm one of those "older" folk at 50...

You gotta wonder too - what was the activity level of those bloggers? Were they in good general health? And finally, I've fallen asleep in the dentists chair too, but my dentist is a triathlete and knows I'm a runner. He always asks me about my runs when I come in - and every summer he gets his whole office involved in a local tri. Pretty cool!

robb briggs,  4/9/08, 10:00 AM  

Good luck at Diablo... I ran a 25k trail race this past Sunday in Southern CA that was put on by the same organizers... they do a great job!

jen 4/9/08, 1:52 PM  

I think people need different amounts of sleep- you probably could still use more, but maybe 6 is a good number for you. I'm in the 8-10 club and also count sleeping among my favorite pasttimes. And I still fall asleep in the dentist chair.. What else are you gonna do?!

Good luck at Diablo this weekend!

Zach 4/9/08, 2:59 PM  

I typically round up in my head to get the eight hours I "need". Granted my rounding is a bit flawed as I round up rather generously (7:15 still pretty much counts as 8 right?).

Really you are doing yourself a favor if you are falling asleep while watching TV because all the "experts" say that too much TV is bad for you anyway.

And YES, I would prefer to be asleep in the dentist chair.

rick 4/9/08, 3:24 PM  

If you can get away with 5 hours of sleep, why not. I can't believe Diablo is upon us already. I'm packing for a long, long day. I don't know why I'm worried about it, Quad Dipsea packs over 9k of elevation in just 28.5 miles. 13k is 13k of elevation however and it's probably going to be warm. I'd like to thank you again for bringing this race to my attention back in January, quickly while I still mean it.

Darrell 4/9/08, 5:09 PM  

Falling asleep in the dentist chair just sounds like good time management to me. What else are you supposed to be able to do while trapped there with your mouth held open?

21stCenturyMom 4/9/08, 6:20 PM  

When my kids were little I generally went to bed at about midnight and got up at 6. That's just the way it was. Hell I was often doing the grocery shopping at 10. I still don't need 8 hours a night but I'm happy to generally get 7.

Send me your bib number for Diablo. I'm working the Rock City aid station from noon to 4:30. See you there!!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 4/10/08, 9:21 AM  

Great post. How coincidental that I stayed up late last night after running my my 3.8 miles from the Bart station at midnight last night after my 10 hour shift yesterday, then got up due to my son's noise and to say bye to him before he was taken to day care (yesterday I took him and ran the trails there for 70 minutes), although he DID refrain from pulling me out of bed. I'm up, but I'll hope to go back and get another hour of sleep before my same shift starting at 2 (there is a pro and con to shift work), but then I sort of wanted to do a real run, not just the to and from Bart runs...you get the picture.

So, hope we see each other only at races, and not in some cardiac telemetry unit of some hospital....

I do the same snoozing at the dentist, even with the intermittent pain. Those dentist chairs are so comfy. I feel so pampered!

Rainmaker 4/10/08, 7:36 PM  

Wow, I couldn't imagine doing 5 hours frequently with the workload that you do (athletically).

I hear ya on all the things adding up - especially this blog thing. ;).

Maybe ya can add an extra hour in there...baby steps, right?

Sarah 4/11/08, 10:54 AM  

Did you see this 60 minutes show a few weeks ago? (If link doesn't work google 60 minutes sleep.)


Everyone is different, but it has made me pay more attention to getting enough sleep. Of course, not running lately I've been getting a good 7.5 a night. Makes me realize how sleep-deprived I was when I was getting up regularly at 5 am to run. Still hope to get back to that soon! : ) Maybe I'll just try to go to bed earlier.

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