Fighting sleep is a national pastime

by | Nov 18, 2012 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I have never gulped a 5-Hour Energy. But I am on my second cup of coffee as I write this, and it is not even 8 a.m. Before the day is done, I’ll have ingested at least four more cups. And I don’t love the taste of coffee that much. I want (need? crave?) the caffeine.

It gave me pause this past week after reading that the Food and Drug Administration was looking into reports that 5-Hour Energy may be involved in 13 deaths in the last four years, on the heels of another investigation into five deaths possibly linked to Monster Energy Drink.

Both 5-Hour Energy and Monster are loaded with caffeine. And most of their users drink them less for the taste than the jolt of energy they need.

And why do they need it?

Because they don’t get enough sleep.

Few of us do.

Let’s face it. Americans have a love/hate relationship with rest. We want it, but we have too much to do! This, of course, means sleeping less than we should, which leaves us tired, which makes us want to sleep, which starts the cycle all over again.

If it’s true that adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, then aren’t most of us walking around exhausted, bleary-eyed, low in the tank? We rise early for the kids, or the factory shift, or to run 5miles before work. We stay up late grading papers, or watching TV, or checking endless Facebook posts.

Sleep is a natural healer, a true friend to the body. But we fight it like a foreign army. We yawn all day.

“Gosh, I’m so tired.”

Does anyone ever say that happily?

A long history of cheating sleep

I, personally, have been sleep-deprived since middle school. I had to rise at 5 a.m. for a long commute with my father, who needed to drop me off and get to his office by 7:30. I was so exhausted, I would sit on the bathroom floor and sleep against the bathtub, until Dad banged on the door and hollered, “I know what you’re doing! Get moving!”

In college, I hated sleeping at night – that was when the fun was – so I socialized late and rose early – really early – to study. I popped a few NoDoz in those years. How else to get through finals?

In the early work years, there was so much travel, so many late-night deadlines, that sleep was mostly relegated to airplane seats or naps. It was then I discovered the eye mask, a great way to kid yourself that you are sleeping through a night, not through lunch.

Coffee was like plasma for me. I could do a triple espresso three times a day. I may have kidded myself that it wasn’t NoDoz, or, more recently, 5-Hour Energy, but it adds up to the same thing, doesn’t it?

All in an effort to fight sleep.

A very wise person recently reminded me of the oft-quoted 23rd Psalm, which gives us the passage, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” I always thought “green pastures” was the key to that line. But maybe “maketh me to lie down” is more crucial.

Sleep like that is truly heaven-blessed.

But who gets it?

Caffeine for all ages

Not kids, it seems. Energy drinks are the fastest growing soft drink in the country. The 5-Hour Energy folks rightfully note that one shot of their product is no worse than a cup or two of coffee. But what if you pop them like jelly beans? It’s dangerous – especially for still-forming teenage bodies. Still, can we blame our kids for thinking it’s OK? What kind of example have adults set?

Ironically, as I was writing this, I closed my eyes and drifted off for a minute. A coffee cup was in front of me. I realize how ridiculous a picture that paints.

Kids, take note.

One of my fondest memories is a nap I took in a New Orleans hotel years ago, a spring day, the window open to a courtyard, the distant sound of a jazz saxophone drifting on the breeze.

I realize now it wasn’t just the setting, it was the serenity of being at rest, without an alarm or a deadline. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but I no longer feel the need to fill every waking hour with activity.

I would much prefer to find a green pasture and make up for about 40 years.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or The Mitch Albom S.A.Y. Detroit Radiothon, a celebrity charity fund-raiser broadcast from the Somerset Collection in Troy, will be 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Nov.27 on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter: @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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