I realize that sleep is one of those suggestions/tips that can feel like the horse is not only beaten to death, but the hide has become nicely rubbed to create a jacket, but it’s the one that’s the most easily overlooked or deprioritized when it comes to reaching a goal. And the reason this subject keeps coming up over and over and over until you want to scream is that people do not follow this.
In fact, it’s so rampant, the CDC–Center for Disease Control-–is calling it a health epidemic.
When I get going on a goal — especially when it comes to writing, fiction or for my site — I can override, probably a little too easily, my body’s signals that it’s time to go to bed. Especially if it’s “too early.” Especially if I’m writing. Well, honestly–that’s the only time I’ll override sleep and go to bed far too late.
Overriding your body’s signals occasionally is okay, but if it’s something we do consistently, we end up feeling lethargic, depressed, easily frustrated, snappish, worn out and with very little energy to even care about our goals, let alone work on them.
A few years ago, I got steamrolled by the worst flu I’ve had in years. The way I’d push myself to keep going was by saying, “But you can’t stop! Don’t give in! So — keep going! Keep at it, Heather!”
And my sudden clarity was, “Heather, the reason you’re not getting well is you’re NOT STOPPING TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.”
I actually felt the little Drill Sergeant in me pause and say, “Oh…!”
Light bulb, please.
But not really understanding that was how I wound up taking eight weeks to recover from said flu, and why my body developed rather severe tendonitis.
If I’d paid attention — especially to my “Sleep Now” signals, I think I would have (1) Not been so flattened and (2) recovered sooner, or at least faster.
Illness and injuries like tendonitis that “appear” suddenly out of “nowhere” are kicks to the rear from your body to force you to get the rest it had asked for politely much earlier.
Experts say that most of us require around 7-9 hours of sleep every night–which most of us do not get. Some people do absolutely fine on less, sometimes other people need more. You may be someone who has “segmented sleep“. This is also very normal. You’ll notice that’s how babies sleep. Other animals as well. Here is more information.
This isn’t a sign of insomnia, it’s more that your body is simply done sleeping for the time being. If this happens, get up and do some reading for awhile. Do some yoga. Meditate. Then go back to sleep. In some countries people actually get up and walk around, having conversations with neighbors, then go back to bed. If you can do this, especially if you might be able to adjust your work hours to accommodate this (thusly making you a more productive person at work), follow that routine.
Somehow, sleep becomes a waste of time that’s several hours of lost productivity, and therefore a useless nuisance.
Some people need a little more, some a little less. The whole doing it in a chunk is actually fairly new, like within the past century, and it’s very much something you see less of elsewhere in the world, such as throughout Europe, where afternoon naps are the norm. But, again, people tend not to do this. And here’s a visual of the issue.
Either way, your body needs about one hour of rest for every three hours you’re awake. More than that and it leads you to over-sleeping, which can be almost as unhealthy.
Some days you might need more, others less. I have my alarm set for 6 am, so that if I don’t wake up on my own by then, I can. But most mornings, even on weekends, I’m awake and up anywhere from about 5:30 am to 6:00 natutally (yes, weekends, too). If I sleep beyond that (even when it’s slightly earlier), I go into oversleep mode and I have really weird dreams — and then I’m groggy all day.
If you want to get back into a healthier cycle, it can take some time. But here are some tips. To wake up better in the morning, I’ve replaced all possible lights with GE’s full spectrum fluorescent lights (these are the absolute best.) Philips makes great full-spectrum tube lights. If you can, do a mixture of full spectrum and UV to create the mixture of sunlight–reds and blues. (It’s how I take care of my plants indoors when I bring them in for the winter. I also wake up faster.)
More tips here.
Consider a light dose of melatonin in the evening, and then vitamin D in the morning. Melatonin is the hormone that produces sleep, vitamin D is its natural counterpart. I suggest having your doctor check your vitamin D levels; mine were extraordinarily low, so I started taking 2,000 IUs. But I still tested low, so he upped it to 5,000 IUs. I still tested low, so I began taking 10,000 IUs (international units) a day and my tests were normal. B Vitamins help with energy, too. Also, if you’re tired during the day, still, have your doctor check your iron levels, or start consuming more foods with iron in them.
Sleep is, as Macbeth said, the “chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
It’s what refills our batteries and rejuvenates us. It’s how your body creates all the chemicals and hormones it needs for health (this happens when you’re in Delta, the lowest cycle of your sleep cycle). We still don’t know why we dream, but we need to do so — too little Theta REM sleep creates irritability, sluggishness, lack of focus, and so on. As Hamlet said, “To sleep, perchance to dream.” While he had a different meaning behind it, scientifically, there’s a big point to it.
I once watched a very inspiring video that said that you have to want your goals as badly as you want to breathe. It was narrated by a professional basketball player who overcame debilitating asthma, which had forced him into agonizing eons of time where he couldn’t breathe. He talks about wanting to have the willingness to give up sleep to get to your goals…and there’s some truth in that. Sometimes you can override it, of course.
But sleep is also what powers your dreams.
Many of you in this challenge are looking forward to (in all meanings of the phrase) Kokoro, BUD/S, SOF training, GoRuck, that sort of thing, and I really, deeply hope you get there and blaze through with all the glory and triumph you believe you have. I wish the same for whatever goal it is that you have.
So look at those precious 7-9 hours (every night) as added fuel to those goals. Reset your schedule. Sleep is what gives us the space between problems and solutions. And to toss in one more quote, because I feel it really sums things up: “To achieve the impossible dream, try going to sleep.” — Joan Klempner.
Questions? Comments? Email me at heather (at) smallchangelife (dot) org or drop by my Facebook page and leave me a message, leave a comment below or feel free to start up a conversation in the discussion forum.