Meeting basic physical needs is paramount to a mindful attitude in life. In my Book, 8 Habits to change your life, I write about creating habits that support health and well-being. The basic requirements of food, water, exercise, breath, and sleep are predominant for wellness. When an individual lives in a balanced way with respect to these requirements he or she has a great capacity to tolerate and defend against the negative effects of stress.
Often, sleep is the one aspect that seems to be discarded quickly without a thought to the negative effects of not maintaining good sleep habits.
Sleep is this great regenerative process built right into our genetic structure.
Sleep is helpful to spirit, mind, and body. It transforms moody, difficult emotions into sweetness and stabilization. It takes muddled thinking and creates clarity. It takes tension and pain and creates smooth movement and pain reduction. It works more efficiently than medication without side effect, yet it is the first thing that we discard when we are stressed physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
When we need it most we are most likely to deny ourselves sleep.
Often one does this due to really good reasons – but not if you understand the amazing, positive, healing, and maintenance aspects to sleep – then we would see we’re better off getting a bad grade or re-negotiating a deadline than missing out on sleep.
Sleep plays an important role in learning and memory consolidation. In fact, sleep deprivation can result in memory loss and diminished fine motor and cognitive skills, impede response time in crisis situations and increase psycho-emotional problems. Lack of sleep can actually create pain, and is a major contributor to pain syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.
For children who are six years old and younger it is important to get about 10 – 12 hours of sleep, at least, more for babies and toddlers. There is a direct correlation between lack of sleep and an increase in oppositional and aggressive behavior. Children who have a long period of sleep deprivation also have more anxiety and depression complaints. There seems to be a vicious cycle in sleep loss: lack of sleep leads to anxiety and difficulty falling asleep which leads to less sleep.
A cue to the fact that your child is not getting enough sleep may be a lack of listening, spaciness, oppositionality, complaints about physical and emotional issues, and whining, especially if these are not typical behaviors for your child.
Children with sleep issues have difficulty with transitions and an increase in separation anxiety as well as difficulty creating an inner sense of structure.
Making sleep a cornerstone focus in your overall health plan is an important component for emotional and cognitive development, resilience, health, stress reduction, and success.
I think of it as making sleep your friend or creating space for sleep to happen on its own.
There are a number of things you can do to create useful and effective sleep habits.
First, make sure you try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Turns out it’s not that great to short yourself sleep all week and then sleep in on the weekend. We have something like a sleep bank so if you withdraw all week-long you will still owe even if you have a good long sleep one day on the weekend (or even both!). An adult should get 7-9 hours of sleep a day; school age children about 9-10 hours, although some need twelve hours though elementary school. Chinese Medical theory identifies an important cycle that suggests getting to sleep by 11 pm; this is also supported by evidence in Western Medical theory.
Next, drink several liters of water a day, that’s right about three liters. Water is essential for cellular health – so being dehydrated causes headache, listlessness, dizziness, and believe it or not can affect your cognitive skills and cause pain and insomnia.
Next, breath. Focus on meditation, yoga and exercise to keep your mind, muscles, and spirits integrated and working well. Creating mini – meditation or breathing sessions into your day: waiting on line at the supermarket, stuck at a traffic light or while waiting on the phone at work – all will help to keep you balanced and less tense. Also essential for cellular and blood health. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day or 5 – 6 hours a week.
Drink less alcohol and less caffeine (bummer I know). Don’t smoke, anything. And make sure you get enough protein from different sources, not just meat.
When you are dealing with a bout of insomnia try to stay calm. Breathe.
Use the time to meditate, read, paint, knit, draw, or some other calming activity. You may want to try yoga but avoid other types of exercise like push-ups or the treadmill.
Avoid TV and the computer just before bed (turn off at least 45 minutes before sleep). TV and the computer have lights that excite aspects of your brain so that it is harder to allow yourself to sleep. And try to keep your bed solely for sleeping. It keeps your mind on track that if you’re in bed it’s time to sleep.
If you have no allergic issues, the use of calming teas like licorice, chamomile, and lavender are great to bring down your heart-rate and get you in the mood for rest. As are their counterparts in essential oils for smelling purposes. Eucalyptus and rosemary oils are useful if you are feeling the beginning of a cold, or some sort of illness. Rose-geranium, clove, cypress, and tangerine oils are all helpful for over-thinking, fear, anger or obsessive thoughts that are keeping you awake. Choose one to which you are attracted. For children, lavender, chamomile and rose are soothing and bring a sense of comfort at bedtime.
Create a comfortable routine for sleep that includes a step-down in activity that begins one to two hours before sleep. This is similar to what we do with our children and their bedtime routine.
Whatever you do, try to maintain a sense of structure without making it rigid because that increases anxiety and stress and detracts from the relaxing component.
Give yourself the benefit of sleep. Rearrange your life so that sleep is higher on the to-do list. You may find that making that change creates a ripple effect in altering your habits to increase your sense of balance in your life, and increases your success and effectiveness at home, work, and in your relationships.
Wishing you sweet dreams.
See you tomorrow.