How important is sleep? Should we be monitoring the quality and quantity of our sleep like we do the food we consume or how we exercise? In my experience, and consistent with the health and wellness research, sleep is just as vital to our wellbeing as diet and exercise and may in fact be the lynch pin to good health. Insomnia or poor sleep habits are associated with all kinds of troubles, such as depression, anxiety, memory loss, heart issues, behavioral issues, etc.
About 4 years ago my sleep problems had grown to a point that my sleep, or the lack thereof, became an obsession. In social settings the topic of sleep deprivation would invariably come up and I found that many of my friends had similar problems. That became our number one topic of conversation. \”How did you sleep last night? Are you doing better yet? Have you found anything that\’s helping?\” We were all searching for a magic bullet, and we were desperate.
The obsession with sleep of course peaks at bed time as you prepare for–what will undoubtedly be–another frustrating night without much sleep. I could feel the anxiety build as I would walk into our bedroom.
One night I was going through my nightly ritual preparing for bed. I had gone through and locked all of the doors to keep out bad guys, shut every shutter to keep out light, made sure that all the kids were down so they wouldn\’t wander in and wake me up, and made my way to the bathroom mirror. My eyes were blood shot and I had a vacant depressed look on my face. I had become accustomed to this look, but now I was watching myself do something I had never done before. I was standing there in a new pair of silky pajamas I had acquired with the hope that being able to slide more easily when I turned over between the sheets would be the thing that would help me sleep. As I watched myself button up the top button I thought to myself \”Wow, I look like an old man who is beginning to lose touch with reality!\” It scared me. I didn\’t recognize myself and it was time to change.
Roxanne has always been a \”gifted\” sleeper. At one time I teased her because I thought the mid day naps were excessive. Now I\’m a believer and envy her ability to drift off quickly on her way to a 20 minute power nap. I\’m working on being a better sleeper and have made a lot of progress with more still to come.
Some of the things that have helped me improve my sleeping are:
- Getting off sleep medication (I had nearly three days without sleep when I quit)
- Finding ways to lower the stress in my life (Exercise can help)
- Turning off work related thoughts by 6pm (embracing the fact that my sleep and health are so much more important than anything work related)
- Not watching TV or reading on the computer, late into the evening
- Taking Melatonin supplements (a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland)
- Not obsessing about getting my mind to shut off like I want it to (the obsession about my thinking was worse than the thinking itself)
With age comes wisdom and self awareness. I saw how my sleep deprivation was affecting me and those around me. Our teens may not be so perceptive. Maybe you\’ll find some answers for helping them in this month\’s Notes From Home.
To Your Family\’s Happiness!
Tim Thayne, Ph.D.
Founder, Homeward Bound