Let Us Praise Sleep and Get More of It

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Not too long ago, we ran an article on the problem of blue light and poor quality sleep.

Recently, the Washington Post made sleep a front-page topic-- “Wake Up to a Health Crisis: We Need More Sleep.” Subhead, “Brain researchers warn that our lack of shut-eye may be making us sick.”

Sleep, it seems, is a hot topic with the brain research community now. As it should be.

A few highlights from the WaPo story illustrate how important good sleep is at every age. We’ll quote directly:

·         Preschoolers who skip naps are worse at a memory game than those who snooze

·         Poor sleep may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s

·         Even a single night of sleep deprivation boosts brain levels of the proteins that form toxic clumps in Alzheimer’s patients

·         All-nighters push anxiety to clinical levels

·         Even modest sleep reductions are linked to increased feelings of social isolation and loneliness

·         Adults over 50 with lots of insomnia were more likely to fall[1]

That’s the gist of the news from the Post. The question as always is how to get that sleep.

The first step, of course, is to go to bed. That may be the hardest one when there’s a late game running into overtime or a movie you want to watch to the end, a party that’s too much fun to leave. 

But assuming you have put your body into bed in a timely manner, comfort comes next. For most people, a cool bedroom helps. And banish the TV if you have the least trouble with sleep quantity or quality.

Then there’s the mattress. Good ones are expensive so we tend to hang on to them longer than we should. Stop it.  

There’s one other thing that matters more than you might think, as well—your pillow.

Every few years there seems to be a pillow fad. Once it was memory foam, which every woman of a certain age soon came to realize made hot flashes worse. A couple of years ago, it was a type of shredded foam that was “better than down.”

Speaking of down, and feathers, that may or may not be a good idea. Some of us clog up at night on a bed of chicken feathers, which is what the cheaper feather-foam pillows use. Hotels for instance.

Size and fluffiness count, too. If you sleep on your back all night a very soft or flat pillow will be good for your neck and not push your head out of position. But if you’re a side sleeper, you need a nice tall, firm pillow to fill in between shoulder and head and keep you aligned well.

Earlier today, I looked all over the Internet for pillow suggestions. You can buy foam, feathers, down, polyester, and latex. I’d suggest the choice is one of those personal things.

But nowhere did I see anyone recommend my own favorite—buckwheat.

 Yeah, that’s strange, I know. But if no other pillow ever seems to be just right, you hate hot pillows, you like your neck supported, and you want your pillow to stay in place, give it some thought. You can’t get one at your local mattress store, but they are available at Amazon.com.

Be warned, however, buckwheat pillows are hard as rocks. Not suitable for pillow fights. You could probably be arrested for throwing one of those babies around. And while hardness sounds like a bad idea, it’s actually comfortable… as if someone’s hands were propping your head in perfect position and keeping it there all night. With a buckwheat pillow, you actually push it into the shape you like and it stays there.

The other good thing about them is that you can push them to be thick enough for side sleeping, flat enough for back sleeping, and curved enough for stomach sleeping. The bad thing for some people, however, is that a fresh new buckwheat pillow will make a bit of sound as you shift. But if nothing else seems just right, it’s worth a try.

You may get so addicted you start taking it on trips with you.

[1]  Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Washington Post, page 1. Jan 24, 2019.


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