Monday, July 16, 2012

Emotional Sleeping vs. Emotional Eating

I have a couple of unhealthy coping mechanisms. For example, I'm prone to emotional eating (along with a lot of people).  Similarly, when I feel upset and don't have a lot to do, I sleep for hours.  I don't know how common this is: people don't talk about their sleep patterns the same way they talk about their diets.

According to the CDC, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. It goes on to provide troubleshooting for falling asleep, but never challenges the assumption that the sleep should happen in a single block at night. (Woe to the poor souls doing third-shift work, apparently.) There's no discussion of what sleep patterns work better, just adherence to "normal" sleep and advice for insomnia.

Perhaps this stems from a lack of knowledge about sleep. We know that light, stimulants, and physical exertion can play roles, but the roles these things play vary wildly from person to person. There are no sleep hygiene plans, no discussion about what sleep components best support healthy sleep, and no discussions about what sleep styles work for us. We don't even really know why we sleep-- we just know that it's miserable to go without it.

We know lots of things about the inputs to the nutrition process: macronutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals, level of processing, and so forth. We know that a weight loss program should involve burning more calories than consumed and, similarly, that a weight gain program involves consuming more calories than burned.  We know that some foods feel more "filling" than others.

Everyone has an opinion to share about food. For example, my brother will talk for hours about the benefits of his diet, and I tease him mercilessly about how various foods I find particularly delicious will, in his words, "kill him".*  In another case, my mother got into a heated argument with a woman at a church dinner about the merits of vegan diets and the acceptability of honey.  Still, with religion, sex, and politics off the table and so much social activity centered around mealtimes, food commonly enters discussions.

I've worked in two predominately-female workplaces, a preschool for developmentally-challenged three- and four-year-olds and a customer service department in a large company.  In these settings, food played an even larger role in discussion. We traded recipes and diet tips regularly. In some ways, I find it irksome that I regularly trade the conversations I'd like to have about rapid prototyping  and identity security for bland ones about buffalo chicken wing dip and pepper plants, but mostly, I like talking about food.  It provides a platform of commonality: I, too, cook and care about nutrition. Plus, as the experts can't agree on a set of recommendations, there's room for endless discussion: if at a loss for conversation, I can almost always safely discuss nutrition.

Maybe this leads us, as a society, to have a healthy dialogue about food. Whether or not we actually follow any healthy eating guidelines at all, we have a good idea of what constitutes health foods, and we usually respect other people's food choices.

Meanwhile, we don't have a very good dialogue about sleep. Even when sleeping monophasically, friends and family would interrupt my sleep rhythm-- "it's past my bedtime" rarely excuses me from a social obligation. Work and sleep schedules don't take sleep schedules into account: if you have to wake up early to get to a meeting or work late to finish a project, no one cares that it may cause sleep deprivation. It's often acceptable to bring a small snack, but it's almost never acceptable to bring a pillow and grab a quick nap.

Perhaps this further impedes discussion of how to handle emotional sleeping: sleeping that's unhealthy. If we can't discuss healthy sleep, how can we distinguish it from unhealthy sleep? In particular, if we consider sleep some sort of optional extra that only the lazy indulge in, how can we keep ourselves healthy and productive?
*I consider poking fun at my younger sibling my sworn duty as an older sibling.

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