Ah, sleep. The domino by which all the rest fall. You’ve been told a thousand times that lack of sleep is bad for you. It makes you, well, sleepy. Your mental acuity drops, you feel sluggish, your muscles don’t do what you tell them. If all this happens to a healthy person, can you imagine how much harder a chronic patient’s body has to work to get them through a day without the right amount of sleep? There is considerable evidence that lack of sleep can increase both blood pressure and insulin resistance, as well as cause other health issues that can exacerbate chronic and autoimmune conditions.
And the worst part is, you can’t just sleep more to make up a sleep deficit. it might take a month of an extra hour of sleep every day to catch up.
A sleep deficit is a primary tool in my self-sabotage campaign, the excuse I use to overeat and skip exercise. I tell myself sleep is more important. If only I were caught up on sleep, being too tired to exercise wouldn’t factor in. Neither would eating sugar to give me an energy a boost.
But why? Why do we need so much? As long as you get some, isn’t all sleep the same?
You know it’s not. If you want to resolve a (non-clinical) sleep issue, first understand how sleep works. Everyone has an internal 24-hour clock that governs the hormones that put you to sleep and wake you up. It’s called your circadian rhythm. It still takes its cues primarily from light and darkness. When it’s light outside, it’s time to be awake. When it gets dark, it’s time to sleep. However, our society no longer operates in conjunction with sunrise and sunset. We use electric lights to dictate our own schedules, often without realizing how counterintuitive it is to our natural functionality.
Second, understand how we use light and how it affects sleep. Turns out light is complicated. There is a price to pay for that incredibly clear, vivid device screen because of the type of light it uses to project images. No matter what size it is, that screen emits “short-wavelength-enriched light”, which has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light does. Blue light suppresses melatonin -- the hormone that tells you it’s time to sleep -- more than any other type of light on the spectrum. So if you’re one of those people who reads on a tablet before bed or uses the TV to cure insomnia (guilty), you might be making it worse instead.
Sleeping with screens on or just after you turn them off can affect both length and quality of sleep. Ideally, adults should get somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep, enough to spend the right amount of time in each of the five sleep cycles. The stimulant effect of our screens make it hard to fall asleep when we intend to and upset the balance of light, heavy, and REM sleep. That kind of imbalance can affect how you feel as much as not enough time asleep.
Third, find a solution that works for you. Everyone’s will be different. I am going back to my childhood. When I was little, my parents used to read me to sleep. So, tonight, I am going to set the TV timer and turn on a podcast that comes close to the kinds of stories my parents used to read. In fact, some are exactly the same stories, just a little more grown up. I’ve tried this when I can’t sleep and I’m always out in minutes when I do that (I listen to the whole podcast another time – thanks, Myths and Legends!).
Just as sleep is the domino that brings all the others down, it is also a strong foundation to build upon. There is a reason I use it as my favorite excuse. If I don’t feel tired, it eliminates one of the biggest roadblocks to reaching my goals. If this works, I’ll be well on my way.