Sleep. You glorious, sparkling El Dorado in which we want to dwell. You singing, rainbow-colored narwhal that we want to hug, squeeze, and call George. We love you.
But, we also hate you. Because you elude us. Your rejection is troubling, and we convince ourselves we are just not meant to have you. Our thinking, however, is flawed. You see, although we obsess over you — cutting out letters from old magazines to spell out S L E E P on our vision boards — we haven’t taken the effort to ask you out properly. We Google your name and show up when you are around, but we don’t send you flowers and buy you dinner. We are either creepers or stuck. I’m going to go with stuck.
When we want to address something but instead let it linger, we create what coaches call a toleration. Insufficient sleep is a mothership toleration. As it lingers, it sends down beams that drain our physical and mental energy. It also sprouts baby tolerations that become jerky, angry adults. “I have no energy. I get sick so easily. I can’t concentrate. I’m gaining weight and don’t know why. I almost wrecked the car. I keep doing stupid things because I just can’t brain anymore.” The next thing you know, you have a full-out toleration invasion. Yuck.
Many reasons exist for why we tolerate insufficient sleep. Maybe not sleeping has become a habit. Maybe we get a pay-off from complaining about being exhausted. Or, perhaps we’ve woven our sleepless nights into a life story we resist rewriting. Maybe the changes required to address this mothership toleration are overwhelming and uncomfortable, and inertia seems like the path of least resistance. We have our reasons. But, I’m not sure the why matters. Because, once we decide we want to move forward, it becomes less about the why and more about the how.
So, do we want to stop being creepers and court sleep properly? Many of us will say, “Yes.” Because, we know lack of quality sleep is a problem for our health, minds, and abilities. Science says so. And, if we care enough about our health to convince ourselves kale can be a potato chip, then fixing our relationship with sleep is worth pondering. Because, of the ways we can address our health holistically, sleep may be a golden ticket. For example —
• Sleep affects our immune system and brain functions, such as memory.
• Insufficient sleep has been associated with a variety of medical disorders, including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
• Numerous surveys have found self-reported sleep problems to be associated with impaired work performance.
• Our physical prowess may be influenced by sleep. For example, one study found a striking, 13-percent performance enhancement in athletes who focused on getting more sleep.
• Mounting evidence suggests that insufficient sleep can lead to academic and behavioral problems in children, with some suggesting that ADHD may be a sleep disorder. Adults may also be susceptible to attention and behavioral challenges following prolonged sleep issues.
• From medical mistakes to vehicle crashes, lack of sleep puts us at risk of harming ourselves or others. For example, in 2014, drowsy drivers were responsible for an estimated 846 fatalities in the United States. Other estimates suggest thousands of fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.
And those bullets, my friends, were merely a small, random group of what is out there. Sleep is big.
By now, you know where I’m headed. My ask of you going into this weekend is to choose something small you can do to start shooting down the mothership. If you like it, consider making it a habit. And, when it sticks, build upon it. Step by step. Courting is a process.
Some places for you to start:
• Look at healthy sleep habits or practices from folks who invest in helping us improve our sleep, like Ariana Huffington or the American Sleep Association.
• Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Calming colors, softer lighting, relaxing smells, cool temperatures — how you feed your senses affects how you sleep. You can even start with something as simple as putting clean sheets on the bed. (71% of Americans said they get a more comfortable night’s sleep on sheets with a fresh scent, according to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Bedroom Poll.)
• If you wake in the middle of the night, stay calm. Don’t get frustrated and start your day. Don’t get a cup of coffee and turn on your screens. Just. Be. Cool. For most of our existence, we had two stages of sleep. We slept for 4 hours, were awake for a few hours, and then slept again for 4 hours before we started our day. Folks would read, write, pray, and visit friends during the break between “first” and “second” sleep. Turns out, this pattern still runs within us. For example, in experimental conditions, people shift back to the two-stage-sleep pattern of our past. So, when you wake, use the time to meditate, think, or write in soft light. (I note alcohol will cause you to wake up mid-sleep…so, consider limiting alcohol before bedtime when possible.)
• If you are sleeping, but consistently wake up exhausted, make an appointment with a sleep specialist. This is particularly important if people accuse you of snoring.
How will you get to El Dorado this weekend?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments; we’d love to hear from you!