Waking Up to the Importance of Sleep

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If you ever feel like you need more sleep, you are not alone. The CDC reports more than a third of American adults do not get enough sleep. Surprised? Probably not. As more and more is added to our plates in this ever-changing world, many of us fight the urge to sleep to meet the everyday demands of life. And let’s face it, for some, especially parents, staying up late can make them feel like they have a life after a long day of managing work, kids, the household, and daily obligations. We run hard, we target our to-do lists, we juggle brutal schedules; simply put, we have programmed ourselves to go, go, go every day ending in “y.”

Lies we tell ourselves at night: “Just one more episode.” Right? Although bedtime is not the time to binge-watch Netflix, check e-mail and scroll through every social media account, or finish just one more task for work, many make this a part of their regular nighttime routine. They crave quiet time to themselves, understandably; often people feel they must choose between sleep and self-care or “me” time. And in the process of delaying or neglecting bedtime, their duration and quality of sleep often suffers.

Especially with the twists and turns of the pandemic, life’s daily challenges, the impending cold weather, and the hustle and bustle of the holidays fast approaching, it is important to make sleep a priority. Society as a whole needs to release the idea that sleep is a luxury because it’s not; it’s indeed a necessity.

If individuals believe skipping sleep makes more time, well…not true. We are all super, y’all, I believe this, but the bottom line is we do not have superpowers. Too bad, right? Anyways, we need to stop sacrificing sleep with the illusion we are going to get more done. Reducing sleep does not magically create more hours or energy for us; conversely, it lends to making us less productive in the time we do have. Our minds are not as sharp, our emotions are challenged, our nutritional choices are affected, our work ethic is often hindered and our interpersonal relations can suffer. Overall, good stress management stems from good sleep. It is a foundation, that when neglected, can fester negatively into many areas of an individual’s life.

Sometimes sleep disruptions cannot be helped due to certain conditions or situations. After I gave birth to my son years ago, I remember joking with others about how I felt like a “mombie.” Oh my gosh, I was absolutely a walking, talking, crazed zombie going through the motions on some days; I was not getting much sleep at the time, as my son was definitely not the child referenced in the longtime staple phrase, “I slept like a baby.” Not my baby, nope. I craved sleep, consistent sleep, but it didn’t happen often. I remember at times being more irritable, feeling more sad or emotional, craving more energy, and experiencing odd eating habits (either not eating enough, or eating whatever, whenever). It was tough, and I did the best I could, but at times I felt I was all emotional gas pedal and no brake.

So when we can make sleep a priority, we should. Studies show a chronic lack of sleep correlates to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, mood disorders, and depression. Consistent sleep deprivation can also create a dangerous cycle of negative mental and physical side effects. Quality sleep, ideally 7 or more hours, is needed to fight off disease and rejuvenate the mind and body; think of windshield wipers working away inside your brain as you snooze. Pretty cool visual, right?

So, how can balance be achieved? How can we stay on top of our daily demands, but also practice good self-care? Is it possible? The answer is yes. However, it is not always easy, and there is a fine line between sacrificing sleep for more perceived self-care time, which, on a positive side note: Getting good sleep is GREAT self-care!

Here are 5 tips for getting a better night of sleep:

1) Make sleep a priority, and make it a routine.

Be mindful, be consistent, and be intentional. Commit to getting improved sleep, design your sleep schedule, and stick to it…for all the reasons outlined above. You and your health, both mental and physical, are worth it!

2) Set a phone/technology curfew.

Try to give yourself at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed without looking at your phone or using technology, as these tend to activate your brain and keep you from relaxing.

3) Move and fuel your body right each day.

Exercising and eating a variety of nutritionally-dense foods both offer powerful sleep benefits. Vigorous exercise yields great results for improved sleep, yet even walking each day or doing functional work such as household chores can aid sleep quality.

Experts also recommend avoiding both caffeine and exercise three hours before bedtime, as these tend to interfere with your sleep cycle.

4) Enjoy nighttime hobbies.

Before bedtime, try enjoying relaxing hobbies that do not necessarily involve “screen time,” such as reading, journaling, coloring, or meditation. It is a win-win because you will be practicing self-care as well as preparing your body for quality sleep.

5) Make your bed a “sleep only” space.

This is your sleep sanctuary! Don’t use it for anything else (well, except for perhaps one other thing, wink wink). A clean bed in a dark, cool, quiet room can help your mind and body relax, setting you up for a solid night of zzzzz’s. Bonus if you get to experience the really deep sleep with drool on the pillow…

Ultimately, there is no award or glory for being sleep-deprived. It is not fun to feel “off” or like a train derailing off the tracks. Choose to wake up to the importance of sleep…and you choose to shine!