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Anthie Zoumboulias Headshot

Sleep Deprivation: The Calm Before the Storm

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WOMAN IN CAR
Photo by Meghan Nash via Getty Images

April 6, 2012 was the day that changed my life forever. The constant bustling, noise, yells and flickering lights began to wake me. As I slowly opened my eyes, still squinting from the bright lights, I saw about six men walking around me. When I became completely coherent, the bright lights that were so irritatingly blinding me were those of police cars and those six men I was able to make out more clearly, were police officers and paramedics. Just as I thought I was dreaming, I realized I was still in my car -- foot on the brake, hand on the clutch... car on and still running. In a heartbeat, I threw my car in park and slowly rolled down my window as the officers and I exchanged panicked glances.

"Ma'am! Ma'am! Are you alright?" One of the officers asked me as the others stood staring with a sigh of relief slowly forming on their faces. Still looking around in a state of shock, absorbing my surroundings and the grim fact I was completely surrounded by police cars and an ambulance, I only responded with a head nod. But that was only the calm before the storm.

"What happened?"

"Do you know where you are?"

"Have you been drinking?"

"Are you on medication?"

"Are you a diabetic?"

"Do you have sleep apnea?"

Diabetic? Sleep apnea? It was after being asked if I had sleep apnea that I let out a quick giggle, and I told the officer, "No sir, I'm fine." There was nothing remotely funny about the question nor was I actually fine. Frustrated and irritated, the paramedic and two of the officers left, leaving me to face more questions from the rest of the officers. They explained to me that I was out cold for about 15-25 minutes -- neither their banging on my car nor their yells to get my attention woke me up. When they asked what happened, where I was coming from and where I was going, it was at that very moment that it hit me so hard what exactly happened.

"Officer," I said quietly, "I was on my way home from work and I was tired; honestly, I'm exhausted."

It was around 3 a.m. as I was returning home from my second job; and as I pulled off the highway exit and was stopped at the red light, my eyes began to close and I was yawning uncontrollably -- within seconds, I was out cold. By some miracle or Guardian angel, my foot had remained on the brake the entire time. I cannot fathom what would, or could, have happened if it hadn't remained there.

The reason I am sharing my story is because we have become a society ruled by smart phones and a work ethic that surpasses all other societies and countries. New Yorkers, as we all know and as the world knows, are always on the go-go-go. Standing still just isn't our thing, it isn't in our blood. Yet what we have all been guilty of at some point or another, is that we throw our health in the back seat and keep pushing ourselves to achieve more, do more, get more, basically "hustle" till we achieve that bar we set for ourselves in this concrete jungle. But that bar is never stationary, we just keep throwing it higher as our health goes lower and we are running on E (empty) until we stop and in some cases, literally drop.

I have come to realize that a happy, and most importantly healthy life, is one of moderation. You don't need a diet to lose weight, you need to eat healthy foods in moderation as well as incorporating working out into your schedule. And the same thing is to be said about work and sleep. Sleep is by far the most important and vital necessity we need to remain healthy and function properly as humans. This habit of being on our cell phones, checking our emails and working around the clock, and on weekends, needs to come to an end. We fail to realize that it not only affects our health, but every other aspect of our life and relationships as well. Life is what is happening as we are too busy trying to make a living. I urge you to prioritize your time, put your phones and electronics down, and stop to smell the roses from time to time and enjoy your life.

Oscar Wilde once said, "To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all."

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