Who knew how important sleep could be?
When I was in college, I could pull all-nighters, go out all night, and be up early the next day like nothing was happening. Our world has been thriving on this notion that sleep is a commodity more than it is something essential to our overall wellbeing.
I have noticed changes in my sleep during this pandemic. The first few months, I slept a lot, and I was grateful to actually have what felt like was time to sleep. During this time, I also had an uptick in weird dreams, some of which I wish I had written down. As we have settled more into a routine, I have noticed slightly less weird dreams, and now a focus on making sure that I am creating real boundaries between work, technology, and my sacred sleep.
My sleep journey actually started a few years ago, but due to “being busy,” I admittedly did not give it the time that it deserved. I have learned a lot since then about the beauty and importance of quality sleep and rest. More on this on my YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/r_WrMm4Ygr4
On Monday, April 25th, 2016—I know because I still have the ticket stub, I took myself out to dinner, savored my meal at a restaurant—probably Nandos–in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington DC, and then stood in line to get into the Historic 6th and I synagogue for an event. That evening, and in that beautiful space, Arianna Huffington, yes, the creator of the Huffington Post, was going to talk to her audience about something that most people didn’t actually seem to be talking about, except in the negative. The topic was sleep! Most people talk about how little sleep they get, or we hear in this society we live in about, “You can sleep when you are dead,” and “Sleep is getting in the way of my progress.” People glorify how little sleep they can get by on. There are scientifically a few people who can actually survive on a few hours of sleep, but that is not the norm, and sleep is in fact, a most important part of our life equation.
In her book, “The Sleep Revolution,” Arianna made the case for why sleep is so essential to everything that we do! I listened captivated, and after the event, I scuttled home on the metro to try to get enough sleep for the next day. I put the book on my bookshelf, and that is where it remained until this year. Because of the pandemic, I had to inventory the amount of books that I had that had not been read yet for various reasons. I was determined that during this time, I would read more of my untouched books. That has not stopped me from getting new books haha, but they will all be read in time. I also think that sometimes a book might come to us, but it is not yet the time for us to read it. When I started the book finally, it really opened my eyes to my own sleep habits, and when I finished it, I felt that my perspective with regards to sleep had been transformed.
Sleep is essential to everything that we do. We need sleep to function well, and to live this life.
Do you ever ask yourself the question? How much sleep and rest am I getting? Do you think that you are sleeping enough? I did a bit of my own research, and the CDC, NIH, and the American Academy for Sleep Medicine all have similar results for how much sleep we should be getting. Infants should be getting anywhere from 12-17 hours (including their naps), children anywhere from 9-13 hours, teens 8-11 hours, and adults come in at a solid 7-9 hours. But the reality for many people today is that we are not getting enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is an issue all over the world, and it has led to some very unfortunate situations especially in the corporate world, where many young workers have committed suicide or had complete mental breakdowns. We live in a world that promotes the hustle culture. I don’t have any issue with someone doing their hustle neither am I knocking anyone’s hustle; I just want you to rest. It would also be remiss of me to fail to acknowledge that there are many socioeconomic issues that play into why someone may not be getting enough sleep. As a Jamaican, I know all too well about the culture of having multiple jobs. So there is a social commentary here, but that will be for another time.
When I did my own sleep analysis, I found before that I was getting anywhere from 5-6 ½ hours of sleep per night with an occasional nap here and there. This meant other things started happening in my life. Fluctuating weight, fatigue, and moments of irritability that I regret. It also led to other health issues, some of which I am still working through. I had to start learning that the amount and quality of sleep that I was getting could actually affect my physical and emotional health.
There is also a thing called “sleep debt.” If you sleep less than you need, that total sleep loss adds up to what is called your “sleep debt.” Bad sleeping habits and long-term sleep loss can have really serious repercussions for your health. Also, being extremely sleepy is the equivalent of being legally drunk. We don’t condone drinking and driving, or drinking on the job, and yet we allow people to do all of these things and more while super tired.
Poor sleeping habits are linked to certain medical conditions like, heart failure, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and stroke. Poor sleep can actually affect glucose metabolism and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Poor sleep is also linked to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Asides from the medical impact, there are other major ways that your life can be impacted by lack of sleep!
When sleep improves, you can also improve your concentration and cognitive functions like memory retention. You can increase your productivity, feel more focused, increase your athletic performance, your immune system, reduce the risk for common colds, and lower the risk of inflammation to your body. With better sleep, you can also increase your emotional and social interactions, and decrease moodiness and irritability!
Why is this even the case?
Scientists have found that sleeping actually provides the body with some very important and much needed functions when we sleep. When our brains are at rest it is also doing a sort of self-cleaning. The body has its own waste clearance system known as the glymphatic system that washes away a harmful protein known as beta-amyloid that can build up in our body. The lack of sleep can also cause the buildup of the stress hormone cortisol. Don’t you feel a sense of gratitude for the amazing things that your body does? I do!
So what makes us sleep? Many factors help us to sleep and to wake up. The body’s clock functions on a 24 hours repeating rhythm known as the circadian rhythm. Circadian comes from the Latin words circa (around) and dies (day). This rhythm is governed by a small group of brain cells located in our hypothalamus, and our rhythm dips and rises at different times in day, and this correlates to our feeling sleepy and feeling awake. There are two main process that control this. A compound called adenosine is linked to the need for sleep. While you’re awake, the level of adenosine in your brain continues to rise. The increasing level of this compound signals a shift toward sleep. While you sleep, your body breaks down adenosine.
A second process involves your internal body clock. This clock is in sync with certain cues in the environment. Light, darkness, and other cues help determine when you feel awake and when you feel drowsy. For example, light signals received through your eyes tell a special area in your brain that it is daytime. This area of your brain helps align your body clock with periods of the day and night. This is one reason why it is important to get natural light in the day, if you can, because it helps to keep our circadian rhythm in order. When it gets dark, your body releases a hormone called melatonin. Melatonin signals to your body that it is time to prepare for sleep, and it helps you feel drowsy. Some people take melatonin sleeping pills to help increase this hormone in their body. Due to the research for this post, I read many stories about the dangers of sleeping pills. Some people have woken up in strange places without any memory of how they got there! Scary stuff.
Sleep also plays a role in our dream world. I consider myself a deeply spiritual person. My dreams have been very important in my life, and I have gotten some important guidance from dreams. There are many historical figures who have talked about how they gained some valuable insight from their dreams that helped to change the face of the world. Arianna gives the example of Dr. Otto Loewi, a German psychobiologist, who dreamt of a chemical experiment on nerve impulses. He got up from his dream, rushed to his lab, and the results of that experiment won him a Nobel Prize. Dr. J. Allan Hobson said, “Dreams may be our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configurations of information: new ideas.” Freud and Jung studied dreams in depth, and this could be an entire video by itself as well. The essence here is that dreams can also be super important. They don’t happen without sleep. Most people recommend, keeping a notebook by your bed to record your dreams. It can be interesting to revisit them!
There are many factors that can affect how much sleep you might be getting; I urge you to find ways, no matter your life, and schedule to try to get as much sleep as you can. Recently, I started trying to make sure that I get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep per night. I have noticed a change in my energy, and just my overall mood. I feel better overall.
Arianna and others offer some really amazing suggestions for getting more and better sleep.
I also add a few tips of my own. Here are Celestial Goodness’s Tips for getting more sleep and better rest:
1. Make your sleep time a ritual. Create a sacred process for getting sleep. You may decide that when it is bed time, that you will first take a warm shower, then have a hot cup of tea, and then read a physical book for thirty minutes. Creating a ritual can help your brain prepare for sleep.
2. Keep technology out of your room or as far away from your bed as possible. Mostly this means your phone. The blue light affects your circadian rhythm and says that it is still time to stay awake. Most technologies now have a nighttime mode, but we are still tempted to check our emails, social media, and other messages. When it is out of sight, it is easier to be out of mind.
3. Adjust the temperature to a cool temperature. Apparently, temperatures over 75 are not as comfortable for sleeping. The ideal is somewhere around 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, if you are like me and love a fan, a cool temperature, the fan blowing, and a comfy blanket make for the best sleep.
4. Are there any sounds that you like to hear while sleeping? I use my Alexa device to play rain sounds or ocean sounds. When we sleep, there are four cycles that we go through, and they include delta and theta waves. YouTube has some excellent “sleep sounds” that you can play as well. I used to listen to theta wave sounds when I wanted a deeper and more peaceful sleep.
5. Have your special sleep clothes that you don’t wear for other purposes. Arianna says, don’t wear the same clothes you wear to the gym as sleep clothes. When you put on your special sleep clothes it will indicate that it is time for bed. Some people also like sleeping naked, and that is also a scientific recommendation.
6. Utilize aromatherapy. I have an air diffuser and sometimes I drop a bit of lavender oil into the water. Everything smells so good, and I feel really relaxed. Find a scent that works for you!
7. Make the room as dark as possible. The darkness also helps your circadian rhythm, and indicates to your body that it is time for sleep.
8. Consider what you eat in the evening. Sometimes what we eat and drink (coffee, alcohol) can impede getting good sleep!
9. Instead of sleeping pills (research the devastating impact of some of these pills), try meditation or deep breathing. There are excellent resources available nowadays for both sleep meditations, and breathing practices to help you sleep.
These are just a few tips; find what works best for you; keep a sleep journal, and take small meaningful steps towards getting better sleep and living your best life! It won’t all happen overnight, but even a week of better sleep can make a marked difference in your life. I wish you well on this endeavor, and I hope that as you go through the week, being more rested will help you face whatever comes your way. May the stars shine brightly over your week.