(And Your Body Will Agree)

I used to live by the mantra “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I was the gal rising at 5 AM and going to The Honeymoon Habit by Paul Raderbed around midnight. I rose quickly and immediately got busy. There was coffee to drink and work to be done.

I proudly told anyone who asked that my body just didn’t require much sleep.

I told myself I was both an early bird and a night owl. I told myself that made me more valuable as an employee. I told myself that keeping busy from dawn ’til long after sunset meant that I was worthy of being accepted by my peers and loved by my family, friends, and any potential lover.

But let’s be honest here, darling. All those things I told others – and myself – were just big fat lies.

The truth is, I was so busy trying not to feel too much or think too deeply, that I crammed way too much into my day. If I crawled into bed when I wasn’t exhausted, my mind would do the crazy dance of worries about not contributing enough and therefore being un-loveable and not valuable. It was easy to distract myself from my own thoughts by getting distracted with mindless surfing and getting involved in other people’s drama. I had lost all ability to tune into anything my body was telling me, and instead self-medicated with caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.

When I finally got the message that the soul-level pain I was feeling, the dissatisfaction I had about my body, and the overall stuck-ness I was experiencing could be more easily addressed if I’d allow my body to get enough rest, I finally began to gain traction on making changes in my life.

What convinced me to give more sleep a try? Science.

What persuaded me to continue to make adequate sleep a priority? Results.

When it comes to being a Custodian of your body, your time, your mind, your soul, your talents and your relationships, getting enough sleep is one of the number one tools in your arsenal.

How much is enough?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need between seven and nine hours per night. And kitten, this isn’t an “average” number, where you can get five hours of sleep most days and then sleep in on the weekend. This means making at least seven hours of sleep PER NIGHT, EVERY NIGHT a priority.

I can already hear the grumbling and the excuses, by the way. I’ve probably made every single one of them myself. The more research scientists are doing on sleep – and sleep debt – the more we are learning about how much we are creating barriers to healthy lives.

So, here’s the skinny.

Our minds and our bodies were designed to sleep about 1/3 of our life. I know we tend to view sleep as “unproductive” and see it as just a time for our mind and body to shut down, but sleep research is showing us that it isn’t the case.

Sleep is an active period.

I’m sure you’ve heard that our bodies need sleep in order to reinvigorate and renew. That’s a very true statement, of course, but it goes a little deeper. Our bodies need periods of rest that are long enough to synthesize our hormones, grow muscle and repair our damaged tissues.

Sleep is critical for our minds (and therefore our souls), too. Sleep helps us solidify and consolidate our memories. As we go about our daily lives, our brains take in vast amounts of information. Information that is logged into our brains needs to be processed and stored so that short-term memories can consolidate into longer term memories. This happens while we sleep.

I am the first to admit that when my schedule gets out of whack, it’s easy to let sleep slide. It happens to me every time JB goes on a business trip while I stay home. I’m out of my routine, I’m a little lonely when it gets dark, and I turn to TV or work to occupy my mind. Then it takes me days to get caught back up.

Here are some tips for better sleep hygiene so that you can make sleep a priority.

  • Unplug at least an hour before bed. Blue light inhibits our brain’s ability to shut-down, so turn off the TV, the computer, the smart phone, and all tablet devices. If you know you are going to struggle sticking to this, consider downloading F.Lux, which will shift the colors on your electronic devices from blue-tones to orange-tones. Oh, and, no matter what, stop charging your phone in the bedroom.
  • Create bedtime routines. This includes shutting down your home, tending to your personal needs (like brushing your teeth, washing your face and taking your medications). Make sure your evening routines include setting up a “launch pad” for the next day – like making lunches, prepping the coffee pot, choosing an outfit, putting your gym bag together, and other such things that will make getting out the door in the morning easier. This actually keeps you from worrying as much.  This will also signal your body that the day is coming to a close.
  • Consider a bedtime ritual. So, what are you going to do before bed if you aren’t working or watching TV? Create a ritual that helps you wind down. Maybe it’s a cup of herbal tea and few chapters of a book. Maybe it’s playing a board game with your honey. Maybe it’s a warm shower or bath. Maybe it’s a little writing in your journal. Or sex with your partner.
  • Your bedroom should be sacred. You should be doing two things in your bed: sleeping and having sex. Don’t work in bed. Don’t watch TV in bed. Don’t pile your laundry on the bed. If you read in bed, try to read paper books, use one of the e-readers that simulate paper, or download F.Lux to your iPad.
  • Create a better sleep environment. This includes making sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable and putting quality sheets and blankets on your bed. It also means blocking lights and sounds that keep you awake.  Make your bed every morning so that when you come into your bedroom at night, it feels more welcoming and inviting. Oh, and temperature is important. Set the thermostat somewhere between 60 and 67. (We keep ours on 64 during the winter.)
  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed and get up about the same time every day. Yes, I know that means not sleeping in on the weekends. Your body functions at it’s best when it has a routine.
  • Find your optimum sleep number. There are going to be those emotionally exhausting days when your body craves more sleep. Keep a small sleep journal and just note how many hours of sleep you get and how you feel when you wake up. Once you get your body used to adequate rest, on those days you don’t set an alarm, your body will automatically wake when it’s ready. This will tell you if you are on the seven-hour side of sleep needs or the nine-hour side of sleep needs.

Darling, I really do understand how challenging the thought of setting aside the long list of to-do items can be because you feel compelled to DO MORE and are SO BUSY.  I know that going to bed early instead of checking in on Facebook or watching the latest Scandal may make you feel as if your are missing out on what the popular kids are doing.

But, oh, baby! If you commit to giving sleep a priority for just thirty-days, I promise you that vows science touts about sleep will be proven to you with results you can feel. You’ll discover that when you are well rested, your skin looks healthier, your body feels more alive and you’re less likely to overeat. You will be more productive, think more clearly, be more creative, feel sexier, and discover that you are better able to manage your emotions and the stresses of life.

“And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.”
–D.H. Lawrence

Cleanliness may be next to Godliness, but sleep is truly a beautiful gift from our Creator. It allows us to manage whatever the world tosses at us during the day, nourishes our mind, body and soul, and gives us the opportunity to begin the next day fresh.

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Debra is a life coach, writer, and tarnished southern belle. She resides in Dayton, OH.
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