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On the Importance of Sleep

On the Importance of Sleep

I heard on NPR this morning that over half of US adults report having trouble sleeping. They indicate stress over finances, health, and managing family issues is leading to restless nights.

I must admit: I was a terrible sleeper as a young (and not so young) adult. I thought sleep was for wimps, so I did everything I could to get as little as possible. I functioned well, but got sick from time to time, was perpetually tired, and in retrospect probably not at my maximum productivity.

Then life took over as an adult, and even though I came to realize that adequate sleep was important, I often found myself unable to get a good, solid night’s sleep. Stress, things racing around my brain, and other factors kept me from getting optimal rest.

A few years ago that all changed, and my life has been so much healthier (not sick once in years) and happier ever since – more energy, clearer mind, etc. Here are some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep. Of course everyone needs a different amount of sleep depending on age, genetic makeup, health at the time, etc. but if you put the ideas below into practice, you can go from, like in in my case, getting a truly restful night’s sleep maybe once or twice a month, to going months on end waking up fully rested and ready to attack the day.

  • Ensure room dark and as quiet as possible.

  • Put away electronics / media (other than books) at least a half hour before bedtime.

  • Read a book on spirituality or something similar before bed (rather than listen to the news, do work, or consume some kind of stimulus that will keep your mind racing).

  • Cut out the alcohol! (or at least scale it back significantly). This will help in all aspects of life, but it is likely the single biggest contributor to a poor night’s sleep. Sure, maybe it will help you fall asleep, but it won’t help you stay asleep/sleep soundly the entire night.

  • Toss all the sleeping aids, melatonin, etc. Save those for when you really need them. These should not be your ‘go to’ sources for a good night’s sleep, rather used rarely e.g. at hotel if you have jet lag.

If you do wake up in the middle of the night – which is not uncommon (especially as you are transitioning from bad sleep habits to good ones) – then acknowledge whatever you are thinking about. This gets kind of ‘meta’ in that your mind is acknowledging your mind. There are endless scenarios, but here is a typical one: you wake up at 3 am and your mind is racing about some meeting or event the next day. You are worried about whether it will go well, etc. The last thing you should do is ‘try’ to not think about it. That has the opposite effect. Instead, talk to yourself (in your head – which is what you are already doing), and tell yourself something along the lines of, “ok, that is interesting. It is 3 am and I’m worried about something that is not happening for another 12 hours. I’m in bed and thinking about a meeting that is 20 miles from here. I can either keep thinking about something I can do nothing about, or sleep which will make me more rested for the meeting. Mmmm, I think I’ll choose sleep….” This combined with conscious breath (where you are aware of your breath and breathe deeply) gets you back to the present. It almost doesn’t matter what you talk to yourself about, it is the act of acknowledging the thoughts that brings you from the past or future to the present, and that is what helps you fall back to sleep. The brain is not good at multitasking when trying to sleep, so you are basically shifting your mind from some past or future state that you can do zero about, to the present, where it needs to be in order to rest.

If you are consistently getting a good night’s sleep, great! If, however, you are like most people and don’t have the kind of energy and clarity of mind you could have by being well rested, then consider implementing some of the above techniques.


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