Reclaim Your Right to a Full Night’s Rest
Have you ever experienced embarrassment in admitting you have been sleeping eight hours or more each night? Too many of us have. Have you ever been victim to the all too common phrase, “you can sleep when you’re dead”? A phrase that epitomizes society’s detrimental view on rest and the damaging stigma that a full night’s sleep equates to laziness. It is this very mindset that is severely affecting our overall well-being, and, ironically, it is literally bringing death knocking at our doors sooner. According to neuroscientist, Dr. Matthew Walker, we are “the only species that will deliberately deprive ourselves of sleep without legitimate gain”(Why We Sleep). Unfortunately in the modern day world, if you are sleeping enough at night your life must be too easy, you are not doing enough, or you are lazy for choosing rest over ‘productivity’, which in reality is often just busyness. As individuals, we have been so hyper focused on being more, doing more, and having more that we have lost sight of one of the most key and vital functions to our survival and quality of life.
The following paragraphs are not meant to shame you for your current sleep state (ahem, it would be hypocritical not to say I also struggle with about every topic addressed), but rather to very plainly and bluntly lay out why sleep is so critical and encourage you just one step forward towards better rest.
Where did we go wrong?
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 U.S. adults gets less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Looking at sleep over the past few decades, it is estimated that people sleep 2 hours less a day than they did 60 years ago. What has changed? The two biggest cultural factors that currently affect sleep are work-related stress and technology. We are allowing our devices and jobs to take the place of one of our most essential and vital functions. While it may not seem that we are ‘choosing’ less sleep, but are rather forced into this lifestyle; the hard truth is that most of us prioritize many things over sleep that ultimately do not compare in value. We are not set up for success by living in a world that rewards busyness and stigmatizes rest. But no matter the case, the decision to shorten sleep still comes with repercussions that we have to face the harsh reality of.
Research has shown that frequently sleeping less than 6 hours per night increases the risk for infection, cancer, brain tissue loss, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and infertility. Sleep loss affects appetite regulation by increasing hunger hormones and decreasing satiation hormones. It is a direct link to obesity. Habitual short sleep for just one week can disrupt blood glucose levels so significantly that you can be classified as a pre-diabetic. Poor sleep triggers chronic inflammation, which contributes to plaque formation and hardening of arteries which can in turn cause heart attack or stroke. Sleep loss can also lead to a 4 fold decrease in empathy levels. It makes sense why it’s one of our foundational factors of health, for it significantly affects our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
The Rewards of Rest
While the detrimental effects of sleep loss can be intimidating and daunting, they can also be channeled as a wake up call to change our sleep habits in order to reap the benefits of rest. Consistently maintaining quality sleep yields the reward of living smarter, happier, and longer. It is our innate superpower, if we choose it. Up until recently, we did not understand the numerous benefits sleep brings or how essential it is to living. If we do it right, we spend a third of our lives asleep which sets us up for success to live out the other two thirds of our life. Our bodies are extremely complex and require a set amount of time every 24hrs to perform system maintenance, so we can continue to operate optimally. “Sleep dispenses a multitude of health-ensuring benefits, yours to pick up in repeat prescription every twenty-four hours, should you choose”(Why We Sleep).
During this system repair at night, memory storage occurs, logical thinking is improved, and creativity boosted. Ultimately, we are better thinkers when we are sleeping more. Sleep also directly impacts our performance during training and physical activity through its repair of broken down muscle tissue and the release of growth hormone; which, helps build muscle mass and regulates fat storage. Sleep also regulates the hormone levels of leptin and ghrelin; which, are integral to appetite and hunger. During sleep deprivation, these hormones are unregulated and basically run rampant. If overeating and cravings are an issue, it is worth looking into your current state of sleep. Overall, quality sleep supports your psychological health, cardiovascular health, mental health, immune system, and metabolic state.
Basic Sleep Tips
Good quality sleep on a regular basis lets your body get the restorative break it needs, and it improves your overall quality of life. When improving rest, some of the most important steps are to be aware of how essential it is and to debunk any social stigmas of being ashamed of choosing sleep. It is challenging when society pulls us in many different ways; however, we have to start making the difficult but critical choice to choose health and rest over busyness, stress, and our devices.
While shifting our overall approach and view on sleep is the primary goal, there are also very practical and tangible steps we can take to start improving our sleep. Below are very basic ways you can set up an optimal environment for good sleep:
If you’re expected to be ‘always on’, sleep may feel decadent. But for a healthy and productive life, it is on par with eating well and exercising regularly. Sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity. To live an intentional and full life within our individual, family, work, and community spaces, we have to start allowing ourselves to rest and reset appropriately every 24 hours. As we strive towards health, fullness, and vitality, it’s time to not only start reclaiming our need to sleep but to also be proud of ourselves when we achieve it.
Walker, Matthew. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. 1st ed., Scribner, 2017.
“CDC - Sleep Home Page - Sleep and Sleep Disorders.” CDC, www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html. Accessed 20 Apr. 2022.
RN, BSN, CF-L1