Monday, March 30, 2015

Sleep is everything.

I loved Harold. It was reassuring to read about another child who had trouble sleeping. 

Sleep is everything.

If you google "benefits of sleep" as I just did, you will gather 192,000,000 results in a second. The stories I find most hilarious always have a headline like "Scientists Discover Surprising Benefits from Sleep." They're surprised? Funny - at least to me.

A lack of sleep will make you psychotic. Go long enough without sleep and you will die. It's that crucial to survival. Is it surprising to find out there are benefits to sleep?

Good, regular sleep makes you healthier, smarter, sexier, more alert. It improves immunity, helps stave off every kind of illness, physical and mental. While sleeping, humans integrate the adventures of their waking lives, work through problems at the deepest levels, engage in physical repairs that can not take place while we're awake and active. In dreams as well as that deep, almost coma-like sleep, I believe healing takes place that goes well beyond medicine. Well rested people behave appropriately, make smarter decisions, express themselves more clearly, feel energetic but also calm, are happier and more satisfied than those who don't sleep well or enough.

We humans need our sleep and yet some of us, sometimes, struggle with it. As a kid I remember not wanting to go to bed. Being awake was so much more interesting. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who has pushed herself well into a second and third wind on occasion, so as not to miss anything fun. I'm not against it every now and then. It can become a habit, though.

"Stress" keeps people from sleeping, of course. I put the word in quotes since I'm never sure what that means exactly. Falling asleep requires a certain level of trust, a sense of safety at least for the moment. It requires a surrender. For chronically anxious people, it's hard to feel safe enough to let go like that.

It's popular at the moment to blame electronic devices for keeping us from nights of solid sleep. Before the age of the iPhone, we blamed electricity, tv, caffeine, sugar and overwork for insomnia. I'm sure there have always existed many theories to explain the phenomenon, even though it's common everywhere on earth and is mentioned in very early texts. How long have people been counting sheep, hoping for sleep? How many thousands of years ago did we figure out that chewing a particular bark or drinking a tea would help us sleep? You tell me. There are bedtime stories galore, bedtime rituals. People pray just before sleep, as if turning over the struggles of the day to the greater wisdom. We know we have to sleep, and yet we struggle against it.

In my society, exhaustion is seen as heroic, a badge of honor. It means we're tough - I guess! When people talk about sleep as if it were a luxury, I feel sad. Basic self care, including regular, lengthy, good sleep, is disregarded in our society, placed in the category of pampering, thought of as unnecessary, indulgent. What they do to medical students is bizarre. A hazing.

For those who want to sleep, there are insomnia remedies out there in abundance, ranging from visualizations to evening rituals to the many pills you can swallow. I believe some of these remedies work for some people and more power to them! If it works, do it - sleep is everything!

For those who don't want to sleep, there are dozens of ways to take caffeine. I'm sure there are at least as many pharmaceutical stimulants as there are sleeping pills. Oh the way we jerk our bodies around. It's so unfair.

Here's a link to a well written page on sleep, via Harvard Medical School.

May you place good sleep at the very top of your list of priorities, make it #1, no matter what doesn't get accomplished while you're resting. I wish you sweet dreams, deep sleep. May you awaken well rested and refreshed.  May it be so.