It has been about a week since we lost an hour due to Daylight Savings time and for some reason it seems to have hit harder this year than in years past. With the stress of so many things on our shoulders, from the immediate challenges in our small circle of influence to more global issues, rest should be a non-negotiable. When we are overwhelmed by our to-do lists, the most common thing we give up in order to get it all done is sleep.
From the time we are babies our sleep schedules greatly impact us, but they also have a profound effect on others. The term “Sleep like a baby” is often noted to be an oxymoron since babies aren’t always the most reliable or restful sleepers. When an infant finally starts sleeping through the night, they may be more content during waking hours but so will their caretaker, who will have been able to rest interrupted. The feeling after a good night’s sleep can be euphoric. We feel lighter, see more clearly and maybe even feel happier. It is like magic and a sure fire cure for what ails you. But why?
Sleep has a serious impact on your brain. Positively impactful when the brain is allowed to sleep and negatively impactful when sleep is denied. Your brain has a lot to get done to assimilate your days and the experiences that fill them so it is no wonder it needs time to do so. Sleep is a time to clean out harmful toxins in the body, which can have a huge impact on how you look and feel in a physical sense. Along the same lines, your brain helps regulate your appetite while you are sleeping, which is why sleep is so important for anyone working to lose weight. It may seem counterintuitive, but rest is just as essential as exercise when working toward your fitness goals.
During sleep your brain is hard at work organizing new information and solidifying your memories. This can lead to that sense of clarity you experience upon waking from a good night’s sleep. Implementing positive sleep habits also leads to more creative thinking and more efficient thought processes. It is no wonder you feel more productive and focused when you are well rested. Constant waking through the night disrupts the REM cycle and can have dire effects on the brain and the rest of the body. We know that lack of sleep makes us feel tired and therefore impacts our energy and our productivity, but are we aware of what is actually happening to your brain when it doesn’t sleep?
Sleep deprivation and its many adverse effects take a toll on the majority of Americans. Some common sleep disorders, such as insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy, impact 70% of Americans. When your brain doesn’t sleep, it cannot perform in the way it is designed to in order to promote safety and survival. You become more emotional and less emotionally intelligent which has a negative impact on our relationship with others. When your brain doesn’t sleep, you experience impairments in the areas of cognitive thinking, conversational skills, decision making and memory. This can promote challenges in the workplace as well as at home with family. It is no surprise that the ability to focus decreases and stress increases. Chronic issues with lack of sleep can also impact our eating habits and are closely linked to diabetes and hypertension.
Now let’s for a moment understand how mindfulness can play a role in this. When we are mindful, we can tune into our bodies. We are able to notice when we are running on empty, so to speak. When we are mindful, we can prepare ourselves and our schedules by being aware of the need to rest and recharge. Imagine how much impact a restful night’s sleep will have on the following day, on your performance at work, on your productivity, and within your conversations and relationships. When we take care of ourselves, we have something left to give to others.
Let’s keep in mind that all of these negative effects can also happen to children. Remember the baby who was not able to sleep soundly and woke many times a night? Their brain also suffers from the lack of recharge. Now imagine the toddler who cannot sleep due to nightmares or the elementary child who wakes with anxiety over a test. Imagine the middle schooler who has spent so much time staring at a screen that they are unable to unwind and rest. What about the high school student who is suffering from insomnia? As adults the challenge to function with very little sleep is daunting, yet children are often expected to rise to resiliency when their brains are operating under similar circumstances.
Consider making sleep a priority this week. Try a power down hour that requires all electronics to be turned off, an hour before bedtime, in order to also power down the brain as well. Try a sleep routine that allows for relaxation and turning in for bed at the same time each night. Setting an alarm for a consistent waking time may also be beneficial. There are so many things that can help make the most of the nighttime hours. Be kind to your mind and rest well. You and your brain have important things to do come sunrise.
Sweet dreams, friends!