A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.

By Nina Pajak

I’m not a great sleeper. I know I’m not alone here.

With only a couple of precious hours of downtime between getting home and getting in bed, I often find myself too keyed up to put myself to sleep at a reasonable hour, as a self-sufficient adult should. So I wind up putzing around the apartment for far too long, watching television, reading terrifying and disturbing news stories online, g-chatting with people in different time zones, playing Angry Birds, reorganizing our DVDs. My husband will have been long asleep. The dog, who dutifully waits for me before getting into his own bed, will sometimes disappear into the bedroom and then re-emerge, whine at me, and disappear again. The message is clear: “It’s time for bed, you psycho. I plan on waking you up in six hours whether you like it or not.”

I know sleep deprivation doesn’t feel good. But now, according to a couple of different studies, there’s even more evidence as to the medical harm it can cause (despite my friend’s recent, semi-intoxicated speech on how science has yet to prove a direct correlation between lack of sleep and death). One study, presented at the SLEEP 2012 conference, found that middle-aged and older people who get less than six hours of sleep per night are four times more likely to suffer a stroke, even if they don’t have any of the other risk factors (family history, weight, etcetera).

On top of that, another set of researchers have taken the link between lack of sleep and weight gain one step further. It isn’t just that being sleepy inhibits your metabolism—it also clouds your brain and impedes your judgement when it comes to making smart food choices. Here’s the sciencey bit, from The Huffington Post:

“The images revealed that when participants only got a few hours of sleep, they had increased activation in the parts of the brain associated with reward and motivation. But when they got plenty of sleep, there were no substantial changes in the brain’s activity patterns, suggesting that sleep deprivation may result in increased susceptibility to unhealthy foods — as well as poor decision making.”

For me, it goes something like this:

Well-rested Nina: La la la, what a beautiful day! I’m hungry from my active and alert lifestyle! Hey, I could go for a nice, veggie-packed, crunchy salad that will fill me up without slowing me down, because there’s so much more I’d like to do today.

Sleep-deprived Nina: <mumbling> <grumbling> <cursing under breath> Everybody leave me alone. I’m tired. I’m in a bad mood. I’m STARVING WHY ISN’T THERE ANYTHING TO EAT AROUND HERE? This day sucks anyway, and I feel fat. I need pizza to feel better. Must have pizza! That cookie looks good! I want wine and nachos! Blarg blurg blarg!

I didn’t really need the scientific study to prove that principle, but hey. It never hurts to have a little institutional reinforcement, right? Perhaps if we all worked fewer hours a day and didn’t have neighbors who practice welding at 2:00 AM and learned how to count backwards by threes from 150, we could all drink our giant sodas in peace without worry of obesity looming from behind the movie theater snack counter.

No, probably not. But every little bit helps.

Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina In New York Archives:

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Can The Zombie Apocalypse Go Away Now?

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