For the past five nights I have slept through the night (with minor interruptions which did not lead to staying awake, tossing and turning, or a complete inability to go back to sleep at all). I wake up refreshed. I have energy during the day and don’t find myself wanting to nod off around 2 in the afternoon. The need for a nap is gone.
This experience – the experience of normal sleep – is elusive for millions of people in this country, and indeed around the world. Somehow the idea that sleep is a luxury has taken hold, and some people even pride themselves on how little sleep they “need”. Many young people routinely pull “all-nighters” to study for exams, and social engagements for many millennials often don’t even begin until 10. Many people believe that they can “catch up” on lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekend.
However, the real impact of lost sleep is a cumulative disaster. Shift workers who are required to work at night, or worse, to change their shifts routinely, experience health-related illnesses at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the population. Sleep experts recognize the essential process that sleep provides, which is a kind of sweeping of the brain, for lack of a better explanation. When we sleep, our brains automatically use that time to clear the brain at a cellular level of elements that are unhealthy at a cellular level. This has implications for many brain-related issues, and in fact may be significant in the problems with aging populations with dementia. If sleep mechanisms stop working, it may be that toxins build up, causing damage that is unseen and invisible until a harmful process is far along.
Some of the basics of taking care of sleep involve steps that many people in our wired world may find challenging. They include:
- Regular time to go to bed and wake up, even on the weekends
- Low or no light in the bedroom, and twilight light leading up to bedtime (an hour before)
- NO SCREENS an hour before bed, and no screens in the bedroom (sorry, TV addicts) – electronic devices emit a kind of light-wave that interferes with sleep processing
- No strenuous exercise at least two hours before bed
These basic steps make taking care of this basic need much more manageable.
Why am I excited about sleeping? Because I haven’t! It’s been a couple of months since I had surgery that made it difficult to breathe – the surgery was actually meant to help me breathe, but the recovery complicated that process. These last few nights have shown me that the surgery did help, that I am close to fully recovered, and that sleep is going to be a lot easier!
Take it from me – sleep is a wonderful process that needs to be respected and preserved. Do your level best to make it work as naturally as possible – your health depends on it.
Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.” Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com
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