BCS caffeine an eye-opener for Gator fans

Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

The second most asked question Tuesday morning in Gainesville was, "What time did you go to bed?"

The Gator's big win over Ohio State was topic No. 1, but the game and the celebration that followed gave many of us a reminder of the power of the all-nighter and the punch it delivers the next day.

It was rocker Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits who sang, "If you wanna run cool, you got to run, on heavy, heavy fuel." And it was my old Navy chief who, blinking at us through eyes that looked like road maps, philosophized, "It's hard to soar with the eagles in the morning when you hoot with the owls."

Tuesday, I was feeling the truth of both of those statements, and I know I wasn't alone. But the ride fueled by BCS caffeine was quite amazing.

Tuesday, in the Alachua County public schools, the opportunity for a perfect attendance certificate for many students fell like confetti over the University of Phoenix Stadium. School board spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said there were more than 1,700 students absent Tuesday, an increase of more than 500 for a typical day. Johnson had her own struggles after staying up until 2 a.m. to see the game, post-game and post-post-game.

"And I had a doctor's appointment the next morning at 7:15," she added. "I was drowsy for that, but in a good way."

Late Tuesday I stopped in to pick up some photos, and Eric Haase, who was working the register, told me that sleep, or the lack thereof, was a running topic of conversation with customers all day. Sleep deprivation, however, didn't stop at the front counter.

"Everybody stayed up pretty late, including the staff, everyone was yawning, but very happy," he said.

As for his own sack time, Haase's best guess was about 1:40 a.m., nearly two hours later than usual. The post-game fireworks in his neighborhood also had some impact on his sleep schedule.

As a card-carrying early bird who can count on one hand the number of days a year I'm actually in bed long enough to hear the clock radio play reveille, my main concern other than the outcome of the game Monday night was whether I'd be able to stay awake to watch it.

This wasn't an unfounded fear, but one based on years of experience. Seldom do I ever make it past halftime of Monday night football. I may be the world's worst source on nightlife in Gainesville, because I'm typically crawling into bed at the time students are heading out for a night on the town. Even seeing downtown Gainesville bathed in streetlights is a rarity for me.

On Monday I was watching a football game that didn't start until 8 p.m., which was just a tease, since the kickoff didn't happen until 30 minutes later. Sleep-fighting pride was on the line. Admitting defeat wasn't an option, but clouds of doubt hung over the La-Z-Boy.

At halftime I watched the Gator marching band strut to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," and the Buckeyes' band disappear under the blue plastic tarp waves while playing the appropriate theme to "Titanic," and I was bug-eyed. I hadn't even yawned.

My brain was jazzed with excitement from the BCS buzz, while my stomach churned with anxiety. I was very seriously into the role of enforcer, nipping any conversation that hinted at overconfidence. I suspected that what was happening in the Kirkland living room could have a direct impact on the outcome of the game.

As the game clock ticked down, my stomach began to settle, but my brain continued to race as if I had downed a double espresso. Midnight came and went. The lights didn't go off until 1 a.m., and even then sleep was elusive. I'd bucked the odds with the help of the BCS boost. It turns out there's a scientific explanation.

I spoke to Dr. Rahul Kakkar, an assistant professor at the University of Florida and a sleep specialist, who had some answers on what was happening.

"People can do a lot of things when they're motivated, and people can suppress a lot of their needs when motivated," Kakkar said.

He said sleep is a basic need controlled by many factors. The circadian rhythms are the internal body clock in the brain. They separate night owls from early birds. But Kakkar says external cues, what he calls zeitgeber, can affect that clock. Light plays a major role. In fact he says before the invention of the electric light bulb Americans slept about 10 hours a night. Now we sleep fewer than seven.

"We're a sleep deprived society," he said.

So the light of the TV, the excitement of the game, the friends around us, all played a role in setting that clock back and keeping our eyelids light. So did a chemical in the brain called noradrenaline. It's released in higher concentrations during emotional situations and helps keep us awake.

Alcohol, surprisingly, may have also been a factor in extending party time for some fans. While it may initially promote sleepiness, when alcohol has been in the system for several hours, Kakkar said, it can also act as a sleep inhibitor.

Our sleep specialist didn't have a problem Monday night, but that's because he'd taken a sleeping tablet earlier in the evening.

"I fell asleep in the middle of the third quarter," he said.

Gary Kirkland can be

reached at 338-3104 or kirklag@gvillesun.com.

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