"Recovery doesn't come in a can. Recovery is sleep."
- Dan John
In any class of 20 students, if I ask 'How much sleep did you get last night?', it is rare that more than 3 students have slept at least eight hours. Usually, a clear majority of them will have gotten less than 7 hours of sleep. There's always a reason, and in the mind of an adolescent, it's always legitimate or grossly unfair (remember the entitlement post?). Those sleeping habits will follow them into adulthood.
Americans, in general, have no patience for cooking, eating, sleeping, or bathing. We do not enjoy them. We resent the inconvenience and disruption to work, our social life, and 'down time' they cause. They are things to "get done". Rather than enjoy them, we view them as unnecessary distractions from the things we want to do, the things we have to do, and the things we feel compelled to do.
Most of us experience "sleep debt" occasionally. To make up for the sleep debt, we may eat poorly because fast food is quick, easy and pumps us up (temporarily). The "nutritional debt" makes it more difficult to repay the sleep debt. For example, when we lose sleep because of stress or work, we drink caffeine and sugar to power through the day. The caffeine and sugar wreaks havoc on our energy levels, causing them to spike and plummet. ...and the caffeine makes it harder to sleep. It is a vicious cycle and the only way out of it is rest and recovery, and/or breakdown. We 'sacrifice' sleep and good food, but it's not really a sacrifice - there is no clean break and no finality. Problems will surface eventually. Repressing debt does not make it go away. Eventually our debt must be paid one way or another; repress the sleep and nutritional debt long enough and payment will be extracted physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Like most people, I wish I could get more, but I rarely suffer from an inability to fall asleep. Even under significant stress, I can usually switch off quickly and get restful sleep. I have only two pieces of advice that may or may not be useful for people with sleep issues:
*Examine Your Dietary Habits*
I firmly believe that better sleeping habits start with an improved diet and quieting an overly active mind. Caffeine and other stimulants, even when stopped early in the day can impact sleep negatively. Give it up, if you can - at the very least, stop intake 8 hours prior to bedtime. Poor nutrition can leave your body and mind hungry even if the stomach is not empty. Eat better and more frequently - reduce the highly processed, the pre-packaged, and "fast". Eat a light dinner if it is close to bedtime.
*Reduce The Noise In Your Mind*
We have become addicted to distraction. It assaults us on all sides in the form of text messages, 100+ mind-numbing channels of television, YouTube, emails, gum, cell phone calls, faxes, endless playlists and MP3 shuffle, and yes, even blogs... When the distraction ends and we are left alone with our thoughts, we cannot relax. An inability to turn off thoughts and anxiety can make it difficult to fall asleep and impossible to go back to sleep if you awaken in the middle of the night.
Do yourself a favor and begin to unplug COMPLETELY an hour or two before going to bed. Turn off your computer, television, cell phone, iPod, and the light.
If you find yourself swimming in thoughts and worry, acknowledge the thoughts and then release them. Like good meditation, good sleep requires you to be present - make a decision to stop the inner dialogue and give yourself permission to enjoy the restful eight hours ahead.