We’ve heard it enough times in our lives that you’d think it would be a no-brainer to always go to bed early or at least get the recommended hours of sleep each night.
Except it’s not that easy for many of us. I know I’m not alone when I admit struggling to fall and stay asleep for most of my life. I had more of an issue as a child getting to sleep each night, which I can still tend to do thanks to a racing mind, but I have been prone in recent years to be more restless in general, remembering each morning the few instances I woke up. Those moments of lying in bed fully awake or half-conscious, despite seeming insignificant, can add up.
So besides diving into the low-down of why sleep is important for us (because we can always use a reminder), I want to express some gratitude for sleep. First off, it feels awesome when you end a day dead-tired and immediately drift off, only to wake up feeling well-rested and ready to take on the day. I’m grateful for always having a bed to sleep in each night. I’m grateful for the pillows and blankets and pajamas that help me feel cozy and comforted. I’m grateful for the rare times I have and can remember good dreams from the previous sleep. I’m grateful for all that sleep serves for us, and I’m grateful for ending each day knowing my loved ones are safe and well and I have lived another day doing the best I could.
But back to those benefits. Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. That means a sleepless night can be detrimental in an instant, or ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.
Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you’re sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It’s forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Studies show that a good night’s sleep improves learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you’re sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change.
Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. Sleep also maintains a healthy balance of hormones that affect blood sugar, growth and development, and hunger. Too little sleep is even known to shorten our lifespans and quality of life in general if our bodies become imbalanced and more easily perceptible to disease.
And since sleeplessness is known for making us irritable, slow to make decisions, and inattentive, it is also known with poorer relationships with others that we cannot be “all there” with. And who would want to be around someone who is emotionally heavy, overly pessimistic, and easy to anger? We’ve all been there, but when it becomes chronic, it’s time to start evaluating your habits. We generally cannot enjoy the company of others or anything life throws at us without the foundation of sleep.
If sleep is as basic to our bodies as breathing and eating, then how can we make it easier for ourselves to nail down 7-9 hours each night? It’s all about making a routine for yourself by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Having a nightly routine to look forward to every day also helps to keep you in check. While I should be better about narrowing down screen time before bed, I have recently started drinking herbal tea or a hot beverage every evening. I also find it much easier to fall asleep with a podcast playing softly in the background.
How you spend your days affect how you’ll sleep at night. Avoid the caffeine once it hits the later afternoon. Eat your last meal at least two or three hours before bed. Get even just a little physical activity in so you feel tired enough at night. Practice mindfulness and meditation if you’re like me and tend to overthink and worry about every little detail.
Obviously these are easier said than done and are not end-all solutions to any woes, but they can hopefully support our well-being and help us step in the right direction. We deserve our best health possible for us. It’s not easy. But we’re each worth it.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie