Take Care Of Yourself – Get Some Sleep!
Have you ever watched the American television sitcom, Seinfeld? It was popular in Canada and the USA in the early 1990s. I used to watch it a lot and I remember it always left me rolling on the floor laughing. One of my favourite characters in that sitcom is this guy, Kramer. He was really odd and terribly funny.
There was one episode where Kramer shows up with his brilliant idea of trying to save time and becoming more productive by sleeping less. Kramer’s plan was to just take mini naps throughout the day.
Kramer: “Well, turns out that the master [Leonardo da Vinci] slept only twenty minutes every three hours. Now, that works out to two and a half extra days that I’m awake per week, every week, which means if I live to be eighty, I will have lived the equivalent of a hundred and five years.”
Jerry: “Just imagine how much more you’ll accomplish.”
Kramer: “Oh, I’ve got a lot of things in the hopper, buddy.”
Kramer certainly had good intentions about sleeping less but his plan didn’t fully work out for him. In the end, he just felt more tired and was less productive.
Sleep, after all, is a basic human need that all of us have to satisfy.
In the short term, it may seem that you can be more productive by reducing your sleep time. You can probably get away with pulling some all-nighters here and there. However, eventually, that lack of sleep catches up with you and you'll notice that you reach the point of diminishing returns. This means that the more you do, the less productive you become because you stop being efficient. You get so tired and worn out that you’re no longer thinking clearly. You start making mistakes. You start a task. You get interrupted. Because you’re worn out, you forget what you were doing. You move on to another task before fully completing the previous one. And you just keep going and going because you need to get it all done. You feel like you’re multi-tasking. But you’re really just spreading yourself thin.
Many of us know that sleep affects our well-being, specifically our mental and emotional states. We need to sleep a certain number of hours to stay alert, productive, and healthy. Exactly how much sleep we need would depend on our genetics, age, activities, habits, etc. You have to pay attention to what that right amount of sleep may be for you. I don’t know about you, but I also need a decent amount of sleep to be in a good mood the following day.
Results of various research in psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience show that there is a strong association between sleep and well-being issues, that is, they influence each other. Lack of sleep can contribute to well-being issues, for example, the beginning and worsening of mental health problems. At the same time, mental health problems tend to affect our quality of sleep or make it harder for us to sleep well. Well-being issues such as anxiety disorders, for example, generate excessive worry and fear contributing to a state of hyperarousal in which the mind is racing, and hyperarousal is considered to be a key contributor to insomnia or sleep problem (Kalmbach, Cuamatzi-Castelan, et al., 2018). Consequently, the insomnia may become an added source of worry, creating more anxiety at bedtime, making it harder to fall asleep, and the cycle continues…
Well-being And Sleep
I don’t want to go into the scientific explanations about how our well-being is related to sleep. You can go ahead and read up on this on your own. Essentially, it has something to do with our circadian rhythm (biological clock) and brain activity when we are sleeping.
Our circadian rhythm contributes to our well-being because it controls most of our biological and behavioral functions. Imagine that each organ in the body has its own clock that needs to be synchronized through a master clock in the brain. So when our circadian rhythm is disturbed, our body does not get the opportunity to do what it’s supposed to do. As a result, motor, emotional, and interpersonal functioning is altered—sleep disorders and major physiological disturbances can happen. We need proper sleep for our circadian rhythm to do its job. It’s almost like the body’s chance to wind all the clocks of all our organs to keep them running along the same time. This is the same thing for our brain activity.
Our brain activity fluctuates during sleep, increasing and decreasing during different sleep stages that make up our sleep cycle. Sufficient sleep facilitates our brain activity such as the processing of thoughts, memories, and emotional information. During sleep, the brain works to evaluate and remember them.
Research show that a lack of sleep is especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content. Lack of sleep can influence our mood and emotional reactivity. It is also associated with mental health disorders as well as their severity. Simply put, developing healthy sleep habits and taking care of sleep problems are key to promoting our well-being, including making our moods more stable and pleasant.
A common cause of sleeping problems is poor sleep hygiene.
It is important to develop healthy sleep habits to help us improve our sleep quality and well-being.
Many years ago, I had serious sleeping issues. I was living on three or four hours of interrupted sleep. I went to see my doctor for help. In fact, I was begging for some kind of sleeping aid! She refused to prescribe me anything. Instead, she asked me pointed questions about my lifestyle and sleeping habits. I left the clinic with some professional advice and a handout on developing healthy sleep habits.
I will admit, initially I was very disappointed. OK. To be honest, I was frustrated and angry. I thought my doctor just didn’t care or understand what I really needed. That said, I took her advice. I changed activities and habits that were unhelpful and unhealthy for my sleep hygiene.
I started exercising regularly, running, swimming, doing hot yoga—and meditating! Every time I couldn’t sleep or woke up in the middle of the night, I brought my attention to my breath. Instead of counting sheep, I watched my breath, paying close attention to each inhalation and each exhalation, noticing the temperature, and feeling the texture and movement as I inhaled and exhaled. Eventually, I fell asleep and woke up the following day feeling so refreshed and alert.
I am sharing with you some of the tips I got that helped me develop healthy sleep habits and get better sleep.
Tips For Developing Healthy Sleep Habits
Get regular exercise and natural light exposure during the daytime.
Limit or avoid consuming alcohol, nicotine, and/or caffeine in the evening, especially before bedtime. Alcohol is a sedative that slows brain activity. While it may induce sleep, it actually interferes with proper sleep during the night, causing you to wake up frequently and to be prone to nightmares. Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants that interfere with sleep.
Set a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time can help reset your daily rhythm and develop healthy sleep habit.
Use your bedroom for sleep and relaxation only. Do not bring your work to bed. Leave your laptop and other electronic devices in your work area. Also, do not eat or watch television in bed.
Maximise your comfort. Fix your mattress, pillows, bedding, and lighting in ways that support restful sleep.
Block out excess light and sound that could disrupt your sleep.
Practice breathing and relaxation techniques. For example, instead of counting sheep until you fall asleep, bring your attention to your breath. Watch your breath, paying close attention to each inhalation and each exhalation, noticing the temperature, and feeling the texture and movement as you inhale and exhale. Scan your body with your breath and try to relax.
I hope you will also find these tips helpful and useful for improving your sleep and well-being.
What keeps you up at night? What prevents you from getting restful sleep?
What activities do you engage in that are unhelpful or unhealthy for your sleep hygiene?
What can you do to help you develop healthy sleep habits and promote your well-being? What will you do?
Goldstein, A. N., Greer, S. M., Saletin, J. M., Harvey, A. G., Nitschke, J. B., & Walker, M. P. (2013). Tired and apprehensive: anxiety amplifies the impact of sleep loss on aversive brain anticipation. The Journal of neuroscience: the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 33(26), 10607–10615.https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5578-12.2013
Harvey, A. G., Soehner, A. M., Kaplan, K. A., Hein, K., Lee, J., Kanady, J., Li, D., Rabe-Hesketh, S., Ketter, T. A., Neylan, T. C., & Buysse, D. J. (2015). Treating insomnia improves mood state, sleep, and functioning in bipolar disorder: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 83(3), 564–577.https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038655
Kalmbach, D. A., Cuamatzi-Castelan, A. S., Tonnu, C. V., Tran, K. M., Anderson, J. R., Roth, T., & Drake, C. L. (2018). Hyperarousal and sleep reactivity in insomnia: current insights. Nature and science of sleep, 10, 193-201.https://doi.org/10.2147/NSS.S138823
Walker, M. P., & van der Helm, E. (2009). Overnight therapy? The role of sleep in emotional brain processing. Psychological bulletin, 135(5), 731–748.https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016570