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dying to get some sleep

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"COUNT TIME! Name and number?"

These two sentences are heard repeatedly here at the Terrell Unit. During the daytime hours when most inmates are up and active, this doesn't usually pose a problem. Most are waiting for medical or dental appointments, recreation or visits.

But at night, on the third shift, sleep interrupted for count, cleaning of the showers and runs - or just a bored guard who wishes to make noise by talking, laughing or playing with the met I detectors - can cause tempers to flare.

Problably one of the major complaints among inmates is that of sleep deprivation.

Our bodies have a natural rhythm that begins in the evening, when the pineal gland in the brain releases medlatonin, a hormone signaling that it's bedtime. As our head hits the pillow, breathing slows and the brain relaxes, taking us through the three stages of sleep with alpha, theta and delta brain waves. After 30 minutes, you're in the deep sleep with lazy delta waves, and constantly being awakened leaves you feeling more groggy.

Lack of sleep makes most people punchy, irritable, incoherent and sluggish. A recent study showed that people who were chroically sleep deprived scored as badly or worse on some reaction time tests as those with a blood-alcohol level of 0,08 percent - legally drunk in many states.

Being drunk or reaction time isn't major concern here in prison but lack of good solid sleep can cause other adverse health conditions. New research shows that sleep may be the third essential component of a long (yeah, I said it) and healthy life, up there with a good diet and regular exercise.

One recent study by Eve Van Cauter, a sleep researcher at the University of Chicago, found that a lack of sleep in just a week's time of otherwise healthy young men showed impaired glucosetolerance - they were in a pre-diabetic state.

She also believes that sleep loss is partly involved in the rising rate of obesity. Leptin, a hormone, tells the body when it should feel full. Lack of sleep could drive down growth hormone.

There has been an increase of men with diabetes and excessive weight gains, although idleness and lack of mobility has probably contributed to the latter.

Studies also associate lack of sleep with changes in immune response. Robbed of all sleep, a laboratory rat will die in about three weeks, apparently from infection.

I don't think any of us here have to worry about dying from lack of sleep, but as I'm sure you can imagine, the prison enironment, especially with the increased security measures for Death Row doesn't provide the ideal sleep environment.

Richard Steven at the University of Connecticut Health Center says, "People should get a dark night's sleep." It is also recommended that for sleep to rejuvenate, it should be continuous - and uninterrupted six hours is best.

Ironically, according to Dr. James B. Maas book, "Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program that Prepares Your Mind for Peak Perfomance" the cells in which we're confined offer nearly the perfect sleep environment.

Since most of you have asked me to draw a diagram of my cell, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone. Very little light actually filters into the cells. There is only one small window in which sunlight can shine through. The door windows (slots covered with wire mesh) offer the only view of the pod. The light can be cut on from the picket which is normally done during count. This is necessary to see inside the cells. These cells are cavelike. They could be compared to doghouses, especially at night when there is no light to shine in from the outside. This is when the guards, making their hourly rounds, shine their high beamed flashlights in our faces. Some have even gone as far as banging on the door, shouting or shining the light in our face until they see movement.

Because of the past incidents of suicide, illnesses and escape attempts, possibly, just possibly, some of this is necessary. But there are some guards that do it only to harass. I suppose there is a fine line that needs to be drawn between security and meeting the needs of the Death Row population. I'm sure a plan could be developed that would benefit all parties concerned. I could probably come up with something myself. Tell you what, let me sleep on it.