As a person who suffered from excruciating headaches and musculoskeletal pain for the better part of 30 years, let me assure you that sound sleep is a wonder pill nobody can do without.
Sleep is not only a fundamental human need, it is a necessity that no one who experiences aches or pains of any kind should ever take for granted. It is so important, in fact, that we naturally fall asleep when our bodies tell our brains that certain essential chemicals have been depleted and our muscles and ligaments are tired and in need of restoration.
The growing problem is that many of us rely on legal stimulants like coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks to force ourselves to continue plugging away. Work, after all, can’t be held back by pleading. There are just not enough hours in the week. The result? We stay up too late, we get up too early, and to do this we consume unhealthy amounts of toxic substances — night after day after night.
The net result? For the better part of our adult lives we, and our coworkers, believe we are sick when actually we are tired. Tiredness, however, causes sickness. Without sleep the immune system wears down and cannot protect and repair the body. Let’s look at some of the damage we’ve done to ourselves simply by not going to sleep when we were tired.
Lack of sleep causes poor concentration, slower reaction times, decreased performance levels, less ability to learn and compartmentalize new skills and knowledge, more frequent memory lapses, increases in simple injuries and accidents, adverse changes in moods and behaviors, increased frequency of headaches, neck and shoulder pain, backaches, fatigue and an overload of toxic beverage consumption.
Why does this happen? During sleep our body is actually working to repair itself. The liver purifies blood, the muscles repair, serotonin increases. Without ample sleep these things do not happen at optimal levels.
In our natural circadian rhythm — or biological clock — sleep is set to take over during the evening hours. We are genetically programmed to get up and lie down with the sun. It was the invention of artificial sources of light (candles and bulbs) that began our stressed-out drive for more working hours at the expense of much-needed rest.
What’s the big deal, you ask, if you sleep only a few hours per night? You can always drink coffee, swallow energy drinks, take caffeine pills, cat naps… life is good. Well, not really. Did you know that in clinical tests rats die within a few short weeks of sleep deprivation? And it’s not just rats at risk.
Chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, attention deficit disorder, chronic migraine and headache, body aches and pain, mental illness, depression and anxiety are all in part caused — or made worse — by lack of sleep. And no caffeine pill or taurine-laced energy drink can cure these dangerous side effects of our global economy-sized work loads.
It’s not just office workers at risk, either. Did you know that it has been proven in numerous studies that sleep-deprived children learn at slower rates and are less social than their well-rested counterparts?
And let’s talk about motor accidents. Sleep-deprived drivers — especially truckers — make up 25 percent of all roadway accidents… and are even more likely to result in death or serious injury than drunk driving!
How about those unfortunate people who have attempted suicide in their lives? It has been found that their sleep is fraught with tension and nightmares. These disturbances, of course, lead to further lack of sleep, which causes lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, resulting in greater depression and the return of suicidal thoughts. A vicious cycle.
You say, for you, it isn’t a crazy work schedule? You just have trouble drifting off and staying asleep? Well then, here are some tips for those who may suffer from insomnia. Follow them and see how much better you’ll feel each day as you get your eight hours:
- Do not consume ANY sugar or caffeine after 6:00 p.m.
- Stop working at least two hours before bedtime.
- Turn off the computer and television at least one hour before bedtime.
- Make sure your sleeping quarters are as dark and silent as possible. Studies have shown that those in darker and quieter spaces tend to sleep through the night more deeply than others.
- Establish a sleep/wake schedule, and stick to it.
- Make a set routine out of bedtime. Change into pajamas, brush your teeth, set out clothes for the morning, even jot down any last thoughts, but promise yourself to revisit them tomorrow. Then turn off the light… breathe deeply, relax and sleep tight.
- If a racing mind is nagging, slow your breathing and focus on the sensation of air as it passes through your nose. This will derail those busy thoughts to help you drift off.
And for those who exercise at night… flip the schedule. It’s keeping you up by moving blood and energy through your system. Researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine found that adults aged 55 — 75 who engaged in 20-30 minutes of low-impact exercise (like walking) every other day in the afternoon were able to fall asleep in half their normal time. What’s more, their sleep duration increased on average by one full hour.
What does all this mean? Good health begins as easily and naturally as going out for a walk and putting in plenty of sack time. Try, if possible, for a straight eight hours of sleep.
And maybe think about buying a new set of sheets to celebrate the new healthier happier sounder-sleeping you.
— Dr. Mark Wiley