If you caught the first episode of Trippies (Thank you! Replays on CNN Philippines today at 1230pm and Saturday at 11am), you may recall how Pepe and I, two non-athletic people, wondered what Olympic-level skills we have. Mine is sleeping. I can sleep through anything. Sometimes on long-haul flights I’m asleep before take-off. I seriously believe that writing gets done during sleep, when the brain is resting and free to work out the details.
Given today’s 24-hour work schedules and omnipresent gadgetry, more and more people are having trouble sleeping. I’ve noticed that the rare occasions I cannot fall asleep are when my brain won’t shut up (After I’ve seen an excellent movie and cannot stop thinking about it, or after I’ve finished a piece of writing and cannot stop criticizing it). Sleep experts tell us to turn off our screens, but I find that playing videos I’ve already seen helps me to zone out and eventually lose consciousness. Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Seinfeld, which by now I have memorized, help me to fall asleep. Also BBC documentaries.
Sometimes I really cannot fall asleep, so I accept that sleep has eluded me, pick up a book, and resolve to go to bed early the following day.
Clinicians have long known that there is a strong link between sleep, sunlight and mood. Problems sleeping are often a warning sign or a cause of impending depression, and can make people with bipolar disorder manic. Some 15 years ago, Dr. Francesco Benedetti, a psychiatrist in Milan, and colleagues noticed that hospitalized bipolar patients who were assigned to rooms with views of the east were discharged earlier than those with rooms facing the west — presumably because the early morning light had an antidepressant effect.
The notion that we can manipulate sleep to treat mental illness has also been around for many years. Back in the late 1960s, a German psychiatrist heard about a woman in Tübingen who was hospitalized for depression and claimed that she normally kept her symptoms in check by taking all-night bike rides. He subsequently demonstrated in a group of depressed patients that a night of complete sleep deprivation produced an immediate, significant improvement in mood in about 60 percent of the group.