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For Sox fans, field of sleep deprivation

'I'm usually awake in class. So far, at least,' said Gary Yessayan, who catnapped at North Station yesterday after working at Fenway Park.
"I'm usually awake in class. So far, at least," said Gary Yessayan, who catnapped at North Station yesterday after working at Fenway Park. (George Rizer/ Globe Staff)
Email|Print| Text size + By Tania deLuzuriaga and Carey Goldberg
Globe Staff / October 26, 2007

It is becoming a familiar feeling for Red Sox fans: endless innings. Nights that seem to end closer to sunrise than sunset. Perhaps a few too many celebratory pints.

Come morning, the euphoria of victory is replaced with a giant yawn and one more push on the snooze button.

It seems October baseball isn't exactly the stuff that dreams are made of.

Garo Yessayan, 18, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, caught a nap on a bench in North Station yesterday morning while he waited for his train, just hours after he wrapped up his shift at Fenway Park.

"It's definitely worth losing some sleep to see the Sox and catch the World Series," said Yessayan, who helps people with disabilities get to their seats and navigate the park. "I'm usually awake in class. So far, at least."

Not even game one's 13-1 score in the fifth inning could send the Red Sox faithful to bed assured of a victory Wednesday. The curse may have been reversed a few years ago, but for some, the memories of disappointment are still too bitter.

"I remember in '86, being 11 years old and thinking I could go to bed and then having my faith crushed when I woke up the next morning," said Paul Hutchinson, 32, of Hancock, N.H, recalling perhaps the most infamous Series collapse by the Red Sox.

Hutchinson trekked to the city Wednesday night just to be near Fenway, kicking back a few pints in Kenmore Square with his buddies and watching the entire 3 1/2-hour game, which did not see its first pitch until 8:30. He was at North Station the next morning in time to catch the 7:27 train to Concord, five hours of sleep under his belt.

"I have a 2 1/2-month-old baby," he explained as he downed an egg sandwich. "Lack of sleep is what we do."

This go-around hasn't been quite as bad as 2004 - remember those seemingly endless and endlessly suspenseful games against the Yankees? - but the Red Sox journey to the World Series has certainly caused fans to lose sleep this season. The marathon five-hour game two against the Indians in the championship series mercifully took place on a Saturday night, but game seven's midnight ending Sunday meant that many started the week behind on their sleep.

With an alarm clock set to go off at 4:45 every morning, East Boston High School principal Michael Rubin said he usually knows better than to try to make it to the end of a Sox game on a school night. "I can't do it," he said. "But I got caught up Sunday, and I was tired Monday."

Rubin even blew by his self-imposed 10 p.m. bedtime Wednesday, despite Boston's commanding lead.

"It was raining," he said. "I had to watch until the end of the fifth and make sure it was official."

Rubin was on time for work Monday, but he may have been one of the few. Monday and yesterday, the Hub's rush hour traffic patterns were pushed back about an hour and a half, said Jeff Larson, general manager of SmarTraveler, which tracks traffic for major commuter routes.

"Generally, what tends to happen is people sleep later," he said.

But Red Sox Nation may be losing more than just sleep over the World Series. More studies are showing that lack of sleep can wreak harm in all kinds of ways, from increasing the risk of car accidents to lowering defenses against illness.

For example, a recent study by Hans Van Dongen found that people who fall short of sleep by a couple of hours a night for two weeks perform as badly on tests as someone who has just stayed up two nights in a row.

But the impairment is more insidious: "People who were up two straight nights knew they were doing terribly," Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, director of Massachusetts General Hospital's sleep medicine unit, said.

"But the people who had just not been sleeping so much over a couple of weeks said they were doing fine" - even though their performance on tests indicated otherwise.

Coffee, nicotine, and ginseng are no substitute for shut-eye, sleep specialists say. They compare the low public awareness of the dangers of sleep deprivation to lack of awareness of the dangers of drunken driving 50 years ago.

"It really is outside of a person's awareness that this problem is happening," he said. "The taxicab driver will say, 'I'm fine,' not unlike a person who says, 'I just had a couple of drinks; I'm fine.' "

Fans may discover that staying up too late to savor the final out can actually have the opposite effect, because sleep-deprived brains have a harder time holding on to memories long-term.

"Red Sox fans are advised to get some sleep if they really want to remember their favorite moment of the game," said Seung-Schik Yoo, a brain researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Maureen Worrell, an English teacher at East Boston High School, said she sees some of the effects in her students who drag into class the mornings after games. "They're half asleep," she said. "I tell them, 'The Red Sox have their money, you need to sleep so you can make yours.' "

Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at deLuzuriaga@globe.com.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in Friday's City & Region section incorrectly stated that Dr. Jeffrey Ellenbogen, director of Massachusetts General Hospital's sleep medicine unit, had conducted a recent study that found that people who fall short of needed sleep for a couple of hours a night for two weeks perform as badly on tests as someone who has just stayed up two nights in a row. Hans Van Dongen did the study.

Pop-up GLOBE GRAPHIC: The postseason long ball

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