Sleep: slēp/ : a condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended”.
What is it?
- is a naturally-occurring state
- is periodic and recurring
- involves both the mind and the body
- involves the temporary suspension of consciousness
- involves the relaxation and inactivity of muscles (howsleepworks.com)
We typically sleep 1/3 of our lives – 25 to 32 years worth – So what’s going on all that time?
- Physically, our body temperature, blood pressure, and breathing rate go down.
- Our muscles are relaxed.
- Increase in tissue growth and repair – we are being restored physically.
- The chemical systems that connect our muscular activity to our brain activity are essentially shut down, so we are, in a sense, paralyzed, which keeps our dreams from resulting in action.
However, while our body may be slowing way down, the same is not true of our brains. “In fact, during sleep, neurons in the brain fire nearly as much as they do during waking hours”. (Huffington Post).
- New research indicates that we actually make decisions in our sleep. Our minds sift through information, process and organize it so that we can literally make a better decision, after we’ve ‘slept on it’.
- We create, evaluate and file our memories, moving more important items from short term to long term memory and discarding that which is irrelevant.
- We are most creative when we are sleeping. Research has found that the mind is most likely to make creative connections in its resting state compared to its awake state. (Huffington Post).
- Our brain cleans house when we are asleep, clearing out toxins that could potentially have the effect of accelerating neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Adequate sleep for adults ranges from 6-10 hours per night with the average being 7.5 hours. Sleep needs vary from person to person and throughout our lifetime.
Why does it matter?
When we don’t get enough sleep, we can suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation. These include:
- Fatigue: Mental fatigue that leads to impaired attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. We are literally not as smart when we don’t get enough sleep.
- Health Risk: Sleep builds immunity, so when we lose sleep we are at higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. We are also more vulnerable to colds, flus and infections and it takes us longer to recover from illness.
- Sleep Intoxication: Research provided by Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that “moderate sleep deprivation [resulting from just 17-19 hours without sleep] produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.”
- Relationship Problems: For me, here’s the most compelling reason to stop the train and take another look at the quality of our sleep and the habits that feed it. Startling research coming out of UC Berkeley, has shown that our problem solving skills and feelings of intimacy go out the window after a bad night’s sleep and people with insomnia are four times more likely to have relationship problems than those that get adequate sleep. If we are going to be known as Christ Followers by the way we love (i.e., the quality of our relationships), isn’t it worth our efforts to make sure we are getting sufficient sleep to allow that love to show?
- Chicken or the Egg? Both! Research indicates that insufficient sleep is both a cause and a result of anxiety, depression, stress and conflict. How many times do we experience a bad night of sleep only to find that the next day we are more prone to stress or the mishandling of conflict, which results in…. guess what?… higher probability of another bad night’s sleep, which keeps the unhealthy cycle going on and on .
What can we do about it? While most of us know the ‘Sleep Basics’, sometimes we need a refresher. What if we did a 2-week experiment, intentionally focusing on increasing our Sleep Skills? Here’s how:
- Be aware – just being aware of the importance of sleep and the effects of inadequate sleep puts us on the right track toward improvement.
- Decide to make Sleep a priority – even if our work schedule prohibits predictable sleep, we can determine to make steps toward improvement.
- Lower the Temp – We sleep better in cool environments. (Not Cold!)
- Turn off the lights – Trigger our body’s natural release of Melatonin, which helps us fall asleep, by making it dark; We can stop using our phones, ipads or computers at least 20 minutes before we are wanting to be asleep.
- Sounds – Some of us sleep better in silence, some of us do better with sleep sounds. See suggested apps below.
- Exercise – We need to regularly exercise, activating our body during the day. However, we should avoid vigorous workout within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Routine – We tend to sleep better if we have a consistent bedtime routine and go to bed about the same time each day.
If we have trouble falling asleep, we can try the 4-7-8 technique – sometimes called a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.”
- Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat three more times for a total of four cycles.
This “fall-asleep” tip I got from a favorite friend of mine and works every time for me: Slowly sing this song in your mind, allowing one syllable for each deep breath in, and one syllable for each deep breath out.
“Je…sus…loves….me…this…I…know….for…the…Bi….ble…..tells….me… so…” (not a bad thought to sleep on…)
— Cindy Schmelzenbach, Regional Member Care Coordinator
Apps for helping with sleep: