We all have our own stories about the importance of sleep. The time we stayed up all night or slept through an alarm. I thought with summer here and the days getting longer it is the right time to pause and talk about our great healer, sleep.
I will never forget my first emergency code as an intern in Pediatrics at the University of Virginia. Although I was used to long hours of study and late nights nothing prepared me for the sleep deprivation of my internship. One night after just falling asleep at 4am in the on-call room I awoke to being stat paged to the emergency room. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my stethoscope and coat and ran for the door. Somehow I knew a young girl in the emergency room needed my help. I ran down the hall, and hit the stairway to the floor below, jumping three steps at a time. I kept saying to myself: “I hope I make it in time!” Arriving in the ER I ran over to the charge nurse and out of breath asked for the room number of this little girl who needed my help. The nurse looked at me, smiled and turning to the other nurses said: “We have another one.” My head and shoulders sagged under the weight of considerable laughter as I realized it was all a dream. Humbled, I walk slowly back to the bed I so desired and the sleep I so needed.
We fall asleep for one of two reasons. Either we are following nature’s cues or we have a sleep debt. Most people live with a sleep debt. Just as you run out of money at the end of the month and rely on a credit card to get you through to the next month our bodies run on credit. Just like with credit cards, however, payment is always demanded.
Sluggishness is not the only payment sleep debt exacts from each of us. Our bodies pay for sleep debt by going into overdrive and working double and triple shifts. This overtime leads to inflammation and causes heart disease, cancer, obesity and type-2 diabetes. Sleep debt also impairs your brain’s ability to perform and alters the actual function of your brain. Sleep fosters the development of long-term memories, improves our cognitive performance and improves our emotional state and ability to cope.
Without the restoration that sleep provides our bodies pay a price. We live shorter, less healthy and unhappier lives. We are unable to process the physical and emotional toxins that build up throughout our day and our body suffers. Without adequate sleep our emotional and spiritual lives are impaired and undeveloped. Without dreams to process the events of our daily lives we greatly lesson our ability to achieve and cope with the world that so easily can engulf us.
What can you do? Follow the rhythm of the sun. Get up and go to bed at a consistent time seven days a week. Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep a night and try to wake without an alarm clock. Naps are powerful but keep them under 30 minutes and avoid naps within 4 hours of going to bed. Never exercise before bed and make sure when you climb into bed you are a little chilled. Use the power of natural sunlight and exercise to get your body back on schedule. Be consistent in your sleep schedule and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Don’t eat anything after dinner and be aware some foods help you sleep and others do not. Try an elimination diet. Prepare for sleep by fading light for several hours before going to bed and making sure your bedroom is dark and all electronic devices are turned off. Send your brain a clear and consistent message. Sleep is coming. Get Ready!
The next time events, responsibilities or opportunities tempt you to pull out your sleep credit card remember sleep debt does accumulate and there is interest to be paid every time you try to pay later rather than sleep now. By saying no to sleep deprivation and yes to your sleep rhythm you will become renewed and discover a renewable healing energy that is only one yawn away.