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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sleep and Who You Are

Sleep and Who You Are
Freud called dreams the “royal road” to the unconscious—and at least as far back as biblical times, dream interpretation has been used in attempts to predict the future or discover hidden truths about our inner lives.
While modern research on sleep and dreaming makes smaller claims, it turns out that you can learn more than you’d expect about both health and personality by looking at various aspects of your sleep and dreaming life.
The Early-to-Bed, Early-to-Rise Sleeper
The varied nature of animal life can be used to illustrate several different sleep styles. The first style—the lark—is a morning bird, your basic get-up-and-go type. If you wake up brimming with energy, sometimes even before the alarm clock rings, you’re a lark. Early to bed, early to rise, larks are well suited to the structure of the 9 to 5 workday. 
“Larks tend to be go-getters but they’re not gregarious,” says Michael Smolensky, M.D., co-author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, and visiting professor at the University of Texas, “They tend to be introverted and are overall more conscientious and disciplined.”
Sometimes this can cause friction at work, Smolensky notes. “Larks tend to want to get to work early and are highly productive in the morning. This gets people jealous, especially when larks are working with late-risers.”
Women are more likely to be larks than men, at least in Western cultures—and older people become more lark-like as they age.
The lark personality is also more depression-prone than those who are late-risers. 
The Late-to-Bed, Late-to-Rise Sleeper
If you’re more productive, alive and energetic at night, you’re an owl. Your alarm clock—if you even have one—is likely buried under a pillow. Smolensky describes a classmate who would call wake-up services, set multiple alarms to ring and blast music, yet was still unable to get out of bed in the morning. Even though he forced himself to stay in when he had morning classes, he still couldn’t fall asleep early at night—and had to drop out of graduate school. Fortunately, most owls aren’t that extreme.
Owls are best left undisturbed before they've had their cup of coffee. In contrast to larks, low moods typically occur upon awakening, but mid-morning and late evenings are creative peaks.  
“Owls seem to be more outgoing and social,” says Smolensky, “They also tend to be risk-takers.” 
Teenagers are notorious owls—at puberty, the body clock changes and even those who tend to be lark-like become more nocturnal until their mid- to late 20s, when they revert to their more usual patterns.
Though most owls are able to adjust to the 9-5 work routine, extreme night owls may feel completely out of synch in such an environment. Consider a night shift, or a job you can do from home, on your own schedule.
The Long Sleeper
Another way in which our sleep styles vary involves how long we like to sleep. If you crave a lot of sleep—even more than eight hours per night—it's likely you fall into the category of “people who need people,” as the Streisand song goes.
Norah Vincent, Ph.D., an associate professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada, conducted a large study examining the relationship between sleep and personality in nearly 6,000 Americans.
"People who were more reliant on others for good feelings about themselves tend to sleep significantly longer,” she says, noting that there's nothing abnormal about this, it's just a measure on which people vary significantly.
However, long sleepers do have a tendency toward depression, a condition that is also very sensitive to the amount of social support people have in their lives. Staying in close touch with family and friends improves health for virtually everyone—but long sleepers should keep these ties strong and active.
The Necessity Sleeper
Are you the type who rarely sleeps eight hours? In fact, you can't imagine staying in bed that long? According to Vincent’s research, many individuals who sleep fewer than eight hours a day have a tendency to be highly self-critical. This could be because "you’re having harsh thoughts about yourself when you wake up during the night and when you attempt to fall asleep," she says. 
Alternatively, the connection might be a result of being anxious in general. "You might tend to sleep shorter because you are in a chronic state of tension," she says.
Both over-sleeping and under-sleeping are associated with a higher than usual risk of death.  No one has explained the connection with long sleep—but short sleep is known to increase blood pressure, which raises the risk for heart disease and stroke.
To improve short sleep linked with anxiety and self-criticism, Vincent suggests separating "worry time" and bedtime.
"We ask [patients] to schedule a time to have worrisome thoughts several hours before bedtime," she says. "It sounds very simplistic but even just the act of focusing on the thought makes it easier to defer having it." Patients tell themselves, 'This isn’t the time to deal with this, I’ll postpone it till tomorrow when I have set aside time to deal with these kinds of thoughts.'"
The Peaceful Sleeper
If you sleep like a log, you probably have an attitude of gratitude. A study of 161 people published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research found that those who focus on what they have—not what they lack—fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly. Grateful people are also less tired and more functional during the day.
Why would being grateful affect your sleep? The researchers found that this was related to the thoughts people had as they drifted off. Being thankful led to faster, deeper sleep.
“People who are feeling more grateful are less tense and anxious, because the two are incompatible,” says Vincent. “A mental state like that at bedtime would be helpful for your sleep.”

The Dreaming Sleeper
Can you vividly recall your dreams each morning? Your sleep style indicates that you are likely highly creative in your waking life.
"People with an intensely high level of dream recall have something called 'thin borders,'" says James Pagel, M.D., director of the Sleepworks Laboratory in Colorado Springs, Colo. "That means that for them, everything is in shades of gray, there's not whole lot of black or white. They’re not purely Democrats or Republicans; they are not quite asleep or awake; and they define much of their lives in that way."
Such people tend to be odd and quirky—and although most are perfectly normal, they are at higher risk than others for schizophrenia.

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