Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] Gross National Sleep?

Maria Isabel Garcia

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[Science Solitaire] Gross National Sleep?
Maybe we should include a Gross National Sleep in the way we measure our national state of health. Health is wealth, right?

On my way work driving from QC to Taguig, I have a playlist in my car. I found it very curious that there will be days when certain songs in the playlist would affect me, even if they are the same songs I just passively listen to most days. For example, there would be days when “Landslide” by Stevie Knicks would land on my morning spirit with such a thud and the memories of my late Dad, who had that song permanently playing his car would snowball, causing an inner avalanche which so far, I have managed to shovel out of by the time I get to work. But why only on some days and not all of the days that I hear the song?

I have already explored a few possible reasons why but I have never thought of this one until I read studies on why missing even one night of good sleep can make you very emotional than you really are. 

Being emotional is of course, part of being human. But what is even more remarkable about being human is how our brains are also able to control those emotions so that they do not overwhelm our responses to situations. 

The main region in the brain for catapulting emotional responses is called the “amygdala.” Think of it as a brewery you naturally have in your head. When you are in it, everything you take with it, becomes “colored” with emotions. If left to itself, you will ram through your days as an iconic “emo,” giving in easily to anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and fear like rides on a carousel. 

But luckily, your inner brewery in the amygdala has some sort of counterpoint in your brain- one that thinks, weighs the value of things and plans out a calibrated response. It is called your “prefrontal cortex” and it is located behind your forehead. Think of it as, “Extremely Upper Management,” borrowing a term from The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. It is like your brain’s Board of Directors. 

When you lose even just a night’s sleep, according to studies like this one, the connection between your brewery and your own Board of Directors is weakened, making you wallow more in the brewery than getting clear directions from your own thinking. It is also linked to increased anxiety. A study connects being overanxious with also having lost sleep the night before, and even with little reductions in your nightly sleep. In another study, you could also be more fragile, unpredictable and even ungenerous when you lose sleep. 

It is not uncommon for people to have trouble sleeping. Bodily changes from aging also naturally brings these challenges. The general recommendation is about 7 hours of sleep every day. While serious loss of sleep would need you to consult with a doctor, there are non-medical habits you can cultivate for better sleep – such as avoiding screen time or exercise right before bed time. According to experts, you have to feel bored but physically and psychologically safe to be able to sleep so physical or psychological stimuli that gets your body and mind to be excited are naturally anti-sleep formula. When I was a kid, I used to be scared of a monster beneath our bed and would have stuffed toys lining up my bed plus my sister beside me, before I could sleep. That made me feel safest and ready for sleep. 

If loss of even just a night’s sleep can cause a slew of personality changes the next day, what would a sustained loss of night sleep because of the nature of our work do to someone’s personality? Will the overly emotional responses, the strong tendencies to be ungenerous, fragile, and unpredictable be more permanent? 

I wonder how much of our national tragedies could be attributable to lack of sleep by the people who were responsible for them? What if good sleep was a national mandatory? That probably made you laugh but think about the Gross National Happiness measure of Bhutan and how it comes close to our hearts’ desires in measuring the things that really count in the way we live. 

Maybe we should include a Gross National Sleep in the way we measure our national state of health. Health is wealth, right? It has been proven time after time that we are more awake in our lives when we get good sleep. And no one will dispute that we need to be awake big time to the extreme challenges of our time. So unusual as it is, maybe among the things we can seriously do for each other is enable each other to have a good sleep so we can be more awake the next day with our decisions able to stand the scrutiny of day. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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