As a person who has been sleep deprived for most of his life, I will tell you firsthand that it isn’t something worthy of a badge of honor. While students often love to fist bump about all-nighters and spending their time studying for that next exam, science proves otherwise and in a pretty conclusive fashion. Looking at our Three Ideals of Balance, Renewal, and Sustainability, sleep is definitely your friend.
- We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping (assuming we get those 8 hours!)
- Nearly 8 in 10 Americans feel they would feel better with just an extra hour of sleep
- According the CDC, as many of 70% of Americans get insufficient sleep
- A NASA study reports a general 34% increase in on-the-job performance with naps or sufficient sleep
- Adults, according to the National Institutes of Health, need 7-8 hours of sleep per day
- Teens, according to the National Institutes of Health, need 9-10 hours of sleep per day
- We are currently getting on average, 2 hours less sleep a night than we did just 40 years ago
There’s still a lot we do not know about sleep, but studies continue. We do know that it plays an important role in brain health, as well as your cardiovascular health. Because it affects your body’s ability to repair at the cellular level, it is important in improving memory and critical thinking. It also helps stave off heart attacks and strokes, and a variety of other diseases. Sleep deprivation can play a role in depression and other mental illnesses as well. A key truth? Losing a night of sleep can make your brain work as though you are legally drunk. Imaging doing that for 2-3 days, or 2 weeks. It isn’t pretty.
Not meant to be a scientific analysis of sleep, our goal is to understand why we’re not sleeping, and what we can do about it. The reasons are many, but I believe that the proliferation of technology is one reason. Sixty-five percent of all Americans sleep, as an example, with a cell phone next to their beds. A high percentage fall asleep with the TV on as well. Plus the general nature of a multitasking society – and by that I mean global society – and the high demands of our lives in general means that we are often thinking, planning, processing, or anxious about the next day. Caffeinated diets, alcohol abuse, lack of exercise – all of these can contribute to sleep deprivation, which ultimately takes away from our balance, our renewal, and our overall sustainability.
There are several strategies for improving our sleep, but there are things we can do today to at least get on the right track. Speaking from experience (and I will speak from experience in a future post!) they can and do work. What I do not recommend is being one of those who find better sleep through chemicals. By definition they are temporary, and as your body adjusts to the dosage of your medications, you will very often find that your ability to sleep or sleep well adjusts with it. Instead consider these basic tips to get back on track, and make them habits just the same way we are asking you to do with the Six Commitments:
- Make sleep a habit: Go to sleep at roughly the same time every night, and set an alarm to wake up at the same time every morning.
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol before bed: One is designed to keep you up, the other keeps you from sleeping effectively.
- Meditate before bed, and perhaps if you wake up in the middle of the night: This one has worked for me very well. I tend to meditate for 30 minutes in the morning, but in my inevitable “wake up at 2 am and never get back to sleep again” I have found that loose meditation works. We’ll cover meditation in our tools as we continue to grow, but we’re not talking pillows and mantras, just focus on your breath, while you lay, and let your thoughts come naturally. You will be surprised how it releases stress and anxiety.
- Turn off the technology! This one is hard for me, especially the TV, but I do find that putting your phone on silent (or turning it off completely) helps. No matter what you think you don’t need the TV as background noise to sleep. I am personally still working on that one.
- Exercise: This is good for you for a lot of reasons, but studies also show that those who exercise regularly can sleep more regularly. Our bodies were meant to move.
I am still on my crusade to sleep better, but generally speaking these strategies have helped me and without the need for medications to get there. In fact I made it a quest to get off of all medications designed to help me sleep. Worst case, I might have an occasional ginger tea to help.
Most important, understand the need for sleep, and make it a priority. Most of us aren’t studying for finals and we don’t need to pull an all-nighter. Even then I don’t recommend sleep deprivation because it isn’t a particularly awesome place to be. Like everything else, when we prioritize sleep, we will work hard to make it happen, and when we make it happen, we will find ourselves closer to finding the road to balance we all seek, and need.