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Everyone I talk to is tired. You ask anyone how they are and this seems to be the response. Tired from work, tired from kids, tired from one more episode, from one more game the night before.
Sleep deprivation supposedly exacts a serious toll, yet I read recently in the New York Times that getting more than seven hours of sleep per night is associated with a shorter lifespan. As a matter of fact, people who got more than 8 hours of sleep per night died 12% earlier than people who got between 6 and 7.
If I were a reasonable person, this information might lead me to explore what amount of sleep is best for me. Instead, it led me to one perfectly idiotic question: if less sleep is better for me, what about no sleep? How long could I go? And what would happen to me?
The first 18 hours were a slightly longer-than-normal day. What follows is a log of the hours after that.
1 a.m.-3 a.m. (hours 19-20): My third cup of coffee's run its course. Yawning. Eyes watering. Work is tougher because I start weird conversations with myself. "Will an itch just go away if I never scratch it?"
3 a.m.-5 a.m. (hour 21-22): You must get a lot hungrier awake than asleep. I eat a banana. Then a bagel. Then a cheese omelette.
5 a.m.-7 a.m. (hour 23-24): No energy. If I were out drinking, I'd notice the time less, but I'm trying to work. Twenty-four hours awake, my blinks become longer. It's like my eyelids are trying to tempt my brain into just letting them close. Oh, and I think facial hair grows faster waking than sleeping.
7 a.m.-9 a.m. (hour 25-26): The "Backpack! Backpack!" song from "Dora the Explorer" is the only clear and uninterrupted thought I've had in hours. I want to stick my finger in my eye until I touch my brain.
9 a.m.-11 a.m. (hour 27-28): This was a terrible damn idea. The feeling it most resembles is of being drunk and heartbroken. What was I hoping to accomplish? That I could discover some wormhole I could pass through and I would never have to sleep again? Why not experiment with hitting myself in the crotch with a hammer in the hope that I would eventually cross some threshold into pleasure? This is my last guinea pig column.
11 a.m.-1 p.m. (hour 29-30): I forgot to take out the recycling and I hear the truck. Six steps into the yard, I realize I'm only wearing boxers. Back inside. Pants. Slap myself in the face. Back outside. Missed the truck. I go for a run, but the thoughts only get louder.
1 p.m.-3 p.m. (hour 31-32) I have to go to a lunch I forgot about. This isn't helped by the fact that I just had a vision of an imaginary cockroach. Driving to the restaurant, a couple of nonexistent animals run by in my peripheral vision. My lunch date doesn't seem to realize that I'm a total basketcase.
3 p.m.-7 p.m. (hour 33-36) A second wind of sorts, my body giving in to the fact that I must press on till bedtime. I'm totally delirious, though.
7 p.m-11 p.m. (hour 37-40) Girlfriend gets home. I try to hide my derangement, but during dinner I make a joke about Oprah, a joke about selling sex for back pills, and a joke about Oprah selling sex for back pills. I think I'm hilarious. She suspects nothing. We watch a movie. I fall asleep at 11 p.m., 40 hours after the last time I'd woken up. I sleep nine hours. I sleep the sleep of the just.
If there's a lesson to be gained, it's a reminder of what true fatigue feels like. There's always something mundane but seductive via television, Internet or elsewhere to distract us. Also, who among us works hard enough to truly be tired at the end of a day?
When I re-read the study with a clear head, I realize it wasn't accounting for happiness, only longevity. Quantity as opposed to quality. So, oversleeping becomes a choice for each of us, another instance of a long life or a happy one.