Sleep is for the Weak

“Sleep is for the weak.” It’s a phrase I use occasionally when someone complains about how little they usually get or how tired they are. However, I can also sometimes be that person as well. What I would like to do is take a minute here and convey how important sleep is in general.

Sleep is important for several reasons. Giving your body a rest being at the top of the list, but it is also an opportunity to give your brain a break from all the input of the day. During sleep your brain is still working on a certain level. It is trying to catalogue all the information you have gained during the day trying to make some sort of meaningful attachment for you to remember in the future or discard it if not needed. This is the prime reason why all night study benders the night before a test do not work. Your brain hasn’t had the time it needs to properly process the information.

The amount of sleep required by each person is different. The younger someone is the more sleep is required. This is because the body and mind is still developing so extra rest time is required. However, if you examine two people of the same age the amount of sleep each person needs is most likely not the same either. For example a person in my age range requires 6 to 8 hours of sleep. I am on the lower end of that spectrum requiring at the minimum 6 hours of sleep to function for the next day where as my fiancée needs closer to 8.

Not getting enough or the proper sleep will eventually take a toll on a person. For as long I can remember my mother has always worked the overnight shift as a nurse. As a result she never actually gets a full 8 hours back to back like a normal person. This is so she can still be awake during some parts of the day like everyone else is. As a result of this she her fatigue rate is reached quicker than the average person and can sometimes be cranky.

One’s mental stability will break down if an appropriate amount of sleep is not achieved either. If memory serves me correctly the closer you get to missing 72 consecutive hours of sleep the more likely you are to suffer a lapse in sanity. This brings me to a personal story to further illustrate this point.

On a return flight day I had to wake earlier (5am) than I was used to so despite the fact that I went to bed early it was a slow start for me. The city I was training new crew members in was about a 2 hour drive from the airport I would be flying out of. Not really a big trek, but combine the early rise with having to drive and I’m setting myself up for a quickened fatigue rate. At the time this didn’t seem like a big deal I’ll just make it up on the plane. (I would be wrong, but didn’t know about it yet.)

I did check the weather for the departing, layover, and arriving airport the evening beforehand. The only place that had a potential problem was my layover airport which is Chicago. (It’s called the windy city for a reason.) I departed Arkansas without issue, but the first hiccup would happen in the skies over Chicago. The storm system over Chicago was producing high winds and heavy rain. As a result of this planes were circling the outer perimeter. Eventually the plane I was on started using its reserve gas and had to land in Wisconsin. Upon landing we were told that we were not the only plane in the same situation, but we were the first ones at the pump and would line up quickly to depart. We ended up being the first plane in the departure queue and the weather Gods smiled upon because the storm broke up and we only sat there for five minutes.

Upon arriving at O’Hare airport I would learn that my layover flight had experienced the same issues mine had coming so missing my connection wouldn’t be an issue, but there would still be a 2 hour wait because the plane and crew still had to be turned over. Ten minutes before boarding time I learn that the plane is experiencing mechanical issues. So they tell us that it should only be an hour. Well an hour turns into 3 hours. I leave to get dinner and come back and the plane is fixed, but the flight crew timed out. (Safety regulations state they can be “on duty” only so many hours in a day) The airline tried to find another crew, I call Bullshit on that, but could not find one in time. The flight was canceled.

It is currently 4:30pm and I have been awake for almost 12 hours. I am no stranger to working a 14 hour day, but combine my earlier than normal wake time and the nonsense I have dealt with already and I go from my normally calm self to annoyed and miffed. The airline gives me the option of being put on standby for 10pm flight. Normally I would be down for this, but it’s me and 20 other people despite more than half of the flight choosing either to stay in Chicago or take other flights. Otherwise they could guarantee me a seat on the flight to my return airport on the first flight there the next day, but that wouldn’t be until 5pm the next day.

Inching toward anger I call an audible and decide to fly in a larger airport closer to home. (Philadelphia being that airport.) The flight doesn’t leave until 9:30pm, but I have no other choice at this point in the game. I arrive at the gate when boarding should begin just to learn that weather conditions had delayed the flight from taking off from its point of origin and had just left there. So it’s going to be a 3 hour delay. At this point in the game my “give a damn” has officially been turned off. I haven’t been mean to anyone yet, but “yet” is the key word.

So I sit and wait yet again. About 2 hours into the extra 3 hours a thought occurs to me. “I’ll bet a million dollars the flight crew times out.” So I inquire as to whether or not this is a possibility. The airline representative confirms this and says to me, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” Having little grasp on rational thought left I ask for a supervisor and explain that I have been traveling in excess of 12 hours at that point and someone needed to get their shit together and make sure that a flight crew was available to get the plane back in the air.

Needless to say they located a flight crew, but the plane didn’t push back from the gate until almost 145am. Once in the air I was able to catch a few z’s. Upon arrival in philly I still had to get my rental car and travel 40 minutes to a friend’s house before I could actually get some sleep. How I didn’t wreck the rental is beyond me, but when I was finally able to go to sleep it was about 5:30am. In the slightly more than 24 hours I was awake I went from alert and conscious to angry and zombie like.

This is just a cautionary tale on the slow mental break down one experiences when sleep is denied for a variety of reasons. If you don’t get the proper amount of sleep it will effect your health both mentally and physical. I think I expressed well the mental aspect of it. In terms of the physical lack of sleep will compromise ones proper growth and development. It will also stymie healing processes as well as weaken the bodies immunize system making you more susceptible to sicknesses. Bottom line is to get the appropriate amount of sleep.

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