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Father's Day and Night: A Man's Sleep

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I just bought a new sporty car. Well, it's not really a sports car; it's a hybrid. My first.

I've owned real sports cars in the past and thoroughly enjoyed their agility and power. OK, it won't break any records, but I was delighted to learn that my new vehicle could sprint from 0 to 60 in under 10 seconds when in "sports" mode.

Sam Keen's definitive book on male psychology, Fire in the Belly, explores some of the childhood roots of a man's proclivity to race and speed. Compared to girls, growing boys are more frequently measured in terms of height, cleverness, dexterity, and of course, swiftness. On the playground and in the streets, running fast is a common metric of a boy's self-esteem and social status. And, of course, this extends into the workplace when he grows up. And back into the streets. Speeding is the most common infraction of the law.

Over the years I've had the opportunity to provide sleep consults to a wide range of successful, hard driving men, including professional athletes, business leaders, entertainers and politicians. I found their inclination to speed informed not only their waking and working lives, but also their night and home lives. Curiously, when it came time to hit the brakes and get to bed, they would even do that in hurry -- just crashing rather than consciously surrendering to sleep. Many of these men engaged in what I think of as speed sleeping -- trying to squeeze sleep into a hurried waking life.

Though they may be more stoic about it, research reveals that men generally sleep more poorly than women. Dr. Daniel Buysse points out that men tend to be night owls, take longer to fall asleep, sleep less overall, spend less time in deep sleep and as they age, have significantly more fragmentation of their sleep than do women. Although women have more insomnia, twice as many men suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, which is associated with more serious medical consequences.

Dr. Michael Twery, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at the National Institutes of Health reminds us that both men and women with poor sleep are at increased risk for major health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and depression. But these risks are greater in men and more likely to impact them at an earlier age. Gender-based sleep differences may well be the reason women significantly outlive men.

Why these differences? Female hormones appear to provide unique health protective influences for women. I believe the natural rhythmicity of hormones also tethers women to periodic slowing and grounding, modulating the relentless pace of modern life. Male hormones do not appear to have as obvious an impact on men, meaning they do not have similar built-in gauges to monitor natural rhythms and support braking systems.

But we do have cars. Monitoring the gauges in my new hybrid, I quickly grew less interested in speed (MPH) and much more curious about fuel efficiency (mpg). It turns out that hybrids perform best with a pulse and glide approach. Because the engine is most efficient at high velocity and torque, pulse is about accelerating briskly to a desired speed. This is followed by releasing the accelerator pedal to slow about 5-10 mph and then gently accelerating once again to the desired speed.

Hybrids also depend on regenerative braking, a technology that allows the inertia of the slowing vehicle to generate energy that is used to recharge its batteries. This requires braking as early and gently as possible to capture this available energy. Braking late and hard will trigger a mechanical override that results in the energy escaping as heat.

The kind of mindful motoring required by hybrid vehicles can teach us invaluable lessons about a more mindful way of moving through our days and into our nights. A way of moving that is conducive to healthier sleep.

Begin by installing a virtual dashboard in your mind's eye and monitor it throughout the day. Gauge your velocity and your energy levels. Notice the pace of your speech, your thought, and your walk. Stay cognizant of your energy reserves. Take time to refuel -- to have a refreshing snack, take a few slow deep breaths or close your eyes and rest your head for a few moments -- before you hit empty.

It's perfectly all right to move quickly, just do so mindfully. Use an efficient pulse and glide approach, accelerating only when you need to and gliding whenever feasible. Practice proceeding rhythmically through any and all of your activities. Balance the pulse of action with the glide of rest. Take intentional breaks from checking your email. Put your fork down between bites. Pause a bit longer than usual in a conversation. Find creative little ways to glide throughout your day.

If we choose to speed, we need more than good brakes; we need good braking strategies.
We might also need a longer braking distance. Use the regenerative braking approach as a model. Whenever possible glide and slow gradually to a soft stop. Avoid braking abruptly, especially at bedtime. Never use sleep as a stop sign. Instead, think of evening as a slow sign. Wind down by thinking, talking and moving more slowly. Its essential to slow before your vehicle enters the garage -- before you put your body to bed.

In a quandary about a Father's Day gift? Give dad something that will help him slow down -- get back in touch with life's natural rhythms and sleep better. Give him a hybrid.

For more by Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., click here.

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