Sleep deprivation and (in) Albuquerque

I’ll be heading to Albuquerque in about six days. (Every time I say “Albuquerque” I think of Bugs Bunny.) I’m going there for the annual conference that I attend – The American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA). This will be my fourth year and I’ll be one of the few taphonomists there. Most of them will be in St. Louis at the Palaeoanthropology Society (Palaeos) meeting. But I have a good reason for going to the AAPAs instead of the Palaeos, and it’s not because Albuquerque is beautiful and I am hoping to play tourist (at least a little bit) while there…though I totally am. I’m part of a poster symposium honoring my late thesis advisor, EH. That’s it. That’s my reason. And it’s more than enough. Of course there will be socializing and an appropriate amount of learning, but mostly I’m going to be a part of something that will, hopefully, honor her, and I think the group of us giving posters is worthy of her memory. It’s a distinguished cast, including E’s former advisor, close friends and colleagues, and of course her students. Working on the poster this past week was challenging. It represents a part of my master’s thesis that I am working on for publication. E was supposed to be my co-author on the paper and working on it without her input has not been easy. Luckily I have a couple of gracious mentors who have really been invaluable in terms of giving me feedback. Still, with each new edit I wonder if she would have approved. The poster has been printed at this point and is on its way to my home via fedex. For you academics out there, I used They cost considerably less than most places and are very quick.

This brings me to the fact that I am tired. I don’t think I have gotten 8 hours of sleep in about two weeks. Some people can handle that sort of deprivation on a regular basis. Maybe it’s just differences in metabolism. It doesn’t matter why, but I do need 8 hours a night to function at my best, and I noticed earlier this week that my mind was slipping. It is interesting to be aware of that fact while it is happening. I kept forgetting things that were fairly routine, I was clumsy, I was saying and doing things carelessly that I would ordinarily not do. It is rather scary. It culminated in a bad decision, or a not-so-great decision, anyway, that brought with it some negative feedback. I won’t talk about it in this space. Suffice it to say that the situation has been more or less neutralized. Luckily I’m good at cleaning up my messes.

This opens up a whole can of worms, this sleep deprivation thing. Why do we do this to ourselves? It is so detrimental. How many arguments have you or I gotten into that were really just a matter of impulsive behavior that could have been avoided if we’d been well-rested and thoughtful? Our brains short circuit, our immune responses drop, our cells can’t regenerate. It generally sucks. We NEED sleep. Yet we constantly treat it like a trivial issue. “Oh, I can go without an hour here or there.” Yes, we can in the short term, but it can have scary consequences in the long run. If nothing else, it just feels bad. In the worst case scenario, it could shorten our life spans. Not something we think about too often.

I won’t get much sleep in Albuquerque. I know this from past experience. The AAPA meeting is a whirlwind of talks, posters and intensive socializing with people, some of whom I only see once a year. It’s only a few days, so I suck it up and run on adrenaline. I’m sure it’s not good for me, but I can handle it. Or so I think.