Sleep: the core of well-being

While growing up, my parents tried to make sure we got enough sleep so we wouldn't get sick. As an adult, I’ve known my husband to promote sleep as having a magical potion-like or medicinal value, calling it “the elixir of life” and depending on the amount they got, I’ve known my kids to crash or thrive because of it. As a therapist, I assess sleep quality and quantity among the indicators of overall well-being. So I ask: are you getting enough good quality sleep every night?

Sleep is at the core of your well-being. Hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness or sleeping to avoid difficulties) and insomnia (sleeping very little or not at all) are common symptoms across many mental health disorders, but this is much larger than mental health. Your sleep pattern directly affects your entire system and has significant implications for your overall health. According to Matt Walker, PhD, author of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, “There is simply no aspect of wellness that can retreat at the sign of sleep deprivation and get away unscathed.” He also notes that the link between cancer and lack of sleep is so strong that the World Health Organization has classified any night-time shift work as a “probable carcinogen.” So why are human beings the only animals who intentionally deprive themselves of sleep (with the exception of animals who are hunting for survival).

The research is clear: sleep is essential to our health and it's one of the areas of life where we have some control. Whether you want to live longer, enhance your memory and be more creative, feel more attractive, have less food cravings, be protected from cancer and dementia, keep the common cold at bay, lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, feel happier, less depressed or less anxious, sleep is at the core of the formula for success. Research also tells us that two-thirds of adults throughout all developed nations fail to obtain the recommended eight hours of nightly sleep (guideline set by the World Health Organization and the National Sleep Foundation).

Here are 10 actions you can take toward your own wellness for better sleep:

  1. Schedule & plan your days around getting 8 hours of sleep

  2. Keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule (even on the weekends!)

  3. Decrease or avoid caffeine consumption, especially later in the day

  4. Decrease or avoid alcohol consumption

  5. Eliminate or moderate daytime naps

  6. Get fresh air and exercise daily

  7. Keep a quiet, dark, and comfortable sleeping room

  8. Lower the temperature of your sleeping room(65 - 67 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal)

  9. Journal before bedtime if your thoughts “won’t turn off”

  10. Eliminate the use of TV, smartphone, and social media while in bed

I’ll leave you with a quick self-assessment: If you were to go to sleep without setting an alarm, would you sleep past the time you needed to be up for work the next day? If the answer is yes, then according to Matthew Walker: “clearly more sleep is needed.”

Lynette Spencer, LCSW, CCAT

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