Sunday, November 29, 2015

With apologies to Wynken, Blynken and Nod

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” Mark Twain, of course, was talking about the weather. But if you enjoy coffee, eggs, wine, red meat and the occasional tuna sandwich, you know that the above witticism—in the reverse—applies to nearly everything you like. In other words, if you like a food, enjoy it without guilt…while you can.

We could blame the media for how every new medical study on a given topic concludes the exact opposite of whatever the previous study found. Whoever’s at fault, this notion has been keeping me awake nights—though I’m not sure it should. I’m wondering, you see, whether the traditional advice about how to get to sleep could itself be due for a flip of the medical-research spatula. With this in mind, here are a few tips we might expect to see should a new study reverse everything we already know about sleep:

Screens rule the day—all 24 hours. Doctors have long warned that staring into TVs, computers and various mobile doodads are a no-no at nighttime, and that we should shut them down early and relax before hitting the sack. The approaching new advice: Get the biggest TV you can get and watch it till your eyes slam shut—you wouldn’t want Samsung, after all, to waste the millions it spent to sponsor the latest sleep research. Better yet, install that TV on your bedroom ceiling and watch the same old reruns in style.

When the chips are down, break out the pretzels. We’ve been told that munching in the hours after dinner could result in trouble sleeping, but that’s before the coming research refutes all that. Tomorrow’s news flash: When your digestive system is working overtime, it lets the brain relax. At least you’ll hope you feel relaxed as you stare upward, wondering whether hiring the cheapest installer to secure the TV to the ceiling was your wisest move.

Exercise till you drop, if at all. Any sleep specialist will tell you not to exercise in the last hours before bedtime. But given tomorrow’s research, you can take that with a grain of salt. (What’s a little more salt after all those pretzels?) And besides, you’ll need to be in shape for all that vigorous tossing and turning, not to mention the thumb-muscle strength required to write texts all night to friends who’ve seen and followed the same research.

You can so make up all that sleep. And you’ve probably heard for years about how you should give yourself a good eight hours in bed per night, for lost sleep is lost for good. Sure…at least until the next studies publish. Next we’ll be catching a few winks here, a few winks there, and waking up just in time for the next office meeting. Or at least the end of it, when you awaken from the bright flashes of your colleagues’ smartphone cameras as they shoot video of your snooze. Ah, virality!

Worried that tomorrow’s sleep regimen is the stuff that nightmares are made of? Take heart. If you don’t like the research, just wait a few weeks.