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Apr 16, 2013
09:00 AM
Health Kick

Taylor Swift Saved My Life

Taylor Swift Saved My Life

My husband was driving the van. He was speeding, and we passed a house on fire just as we entered a bridge over a mountain gap. It was a bit Dr. Seussical—there was no vast system of cables holding the bridge up. It magically traveled from the low cliff near the burning house to the higher cliff on the other side. And just as we approached the other side, the bridge began to burn. The back of the van flew open and I started to slide out. The van made it over the ledge, but I fell out of the van. Wildly grasping at a metal rung where the bridge had connected, I thought this would be my end. Then Taylor Swift, who had been waiting on a ledge just below the cliff, caught my wrist and swung me, single-handedly, to safety. Then she hoisted up her red hard-back suitcase and climbed up to join us. That's when I woke up.

Dreams are crazy things. No one is really sure why we do it. Some doctors speculate that we dream to categorize and store memories for later recall. Others believe we're working through various issues—stresses, fears—to help us better deal with them. Sometimes this is obvious. When we dream about driving too fast and being unable to stop. It's pretty clear that those kinds of dreams suggest we feel a bit out of control. Or the classic naked dreams reflect feelings of shame or perhaps being out of place or ill-prepared. Who knows why I had Taylor Swift come to my rescue?

What doctors are more certain about is that sleep is integral to health. Inadequate sleep is a factor in just about every disease or disorder you can name. Yet sometimes life just conspires to keep us up at night. I'm no exception. When writing this month's cover story, I averaged about six hours of sleep per night for three or four days. I'm not one of those super-human people who can do that on a regular basis. I need right about eight hours to feel good. So I felt it when I was up too late and back up again too early. I fell asleep poolside while my kids swam. I cried when I couldn't get my dog to come inside. Luckily I didn't hurt anyone or make any major mistakes that will haunt me for the rest of my life, but I probably could have. Drowsy driving is a growing problem, particularly among our wired teens and young adults, but we all could fall asleep at the wheel if we burn the candle at both ends for too long. And that's just one thing.

Inadequate sleep is behind all kinds of health, emotional and social problems. One of my sources told me that shift workers have higher divorce rates than non-shift workers. Shift workers and their sleep patterns are well studied, and we know that they tend to get less sleep and poorer quality sleep than the rest of us. It's important because many shift workers are involved in health and safety occupations--think airline pilots and ER docs and nurses--so their fatigue has the potential to impact many, many lives. And what researchers have discovered about them is that shift work affects their health and well being right away and in the long term. It can even shave years off their lives. And what the rest of us can extrapolate from this is that inadequate sleep--due to habit, sleep disorder or otherwise--can wreak havoc on our lives.

The flip side is that better sleep can vastly improve our lives. It makes us feel better. We make better food choices when we're not tired. We have more energy to exercise. We can deal with stress better. We make fewer mistakes. I could go on and on.

My point? All the studies I found in my research indicate that Americans get less and less sleep all the time, and many of us simply are not getting enough. The American Psychological Association thinks everyone should be getting about 90 more minutes of sleep per night. The government's Healthy People 2020 campaign also lists increasing the proportion of adults who get adequate sleep as one of its goals for improving the health and wellbeing of all of us. Check it out here. Then go to bed.

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About This Blog

Contrary to the title of this blog, I'm not always on a health kick. I try (for the most part) to eat well and exercise regularly, but I'm far, far from perfect. I do, though, enjoy learning about health trends and scientific discoveries, and I hope to share information and pose questions that you might find interesting or useful. Hey, if you get a little inspired while you're reading, all the better. Just don't expect it on a regular basis. I'm a writer, not a celebrity trainer.

Why health? Well, I've been around the block enough times that I don't take it for granted anymore. I also recognize that our health is the result of myriad factors ranging from genetics to diet to habits to socioeconomic status to prejudices and beyond. It's a complicated puzzle with different pieces for each of us. That means there are few guarantees or absolutes and still a ton to discover. I never liked the rigidity of science in practice, but I love the insights it produces.

So let's start 2013 on a Health Kick. With any luck, we'll all be better for it.

– Jennifer Garrett 

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