No Rest for the Wicked

I am sure you’ve heard a lot about how important sleep is. I see Dr. Oz and the morning shows occasionally talk about sleep hygiene (aka, habits that increase quality of sleep), but I think a lot of people just say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “I work and I have kids, so it just comes with the territory”. I would like to ask you to reconsider the possibility of getting enough sleep every night, and not just that, but going to bed earlier.

I have on many occasions noticed the difference in how I feel in the morning and all day long when I go to bed early enough to be asleep by 11. And this is even if I wake up several times during the night to pee or whatever. Having been an introvert, procrastinator, perfectionist, and student for the majority of my life, I am not a stranger to late nights, short nights, and all-nighters to get more alone time or get stuff done, but I have paid the price, and I know that others have suffered for my sleep deprivation, as well.

A peer of mine says that the 2 most important things you can do for your mental health are to sleep long enough at the right time, and to take a b-complex vitamin. She has done a lot of investigation into brain chemistry and I was quite surprised that these two simple things would be at the top of the list, but I am here to report that I think she is right. Not only that, but I think the sleep part of the equation might even be the most important.

I have been getting nearly 8 hours of sleep every night for about a year now, but still have ups and downs in performance and mood. I have several times tried to institute for myself a 10:30 bedtime, curious how it would feel to do this for even a week, knowing how good it feels after a single night. I have failed miserably over and over again, for multiple reasons: I often don’t feel creative until evening, and then I don’t want to stop when I am in flow. My mind says things like, “boring people go to bed early”, or “I’m just a night person”, or “I didn’t get enough downtime today, so I need to watch some tv until I am ready to go to bed”, or “just one more post/email/chore first”.

The fact is, getting enough sleep and getting to bed early enough (in general, asleep by 11) are irreplaceable parts of self-care, and it’s never too late to start. When you get to bed at the time your body wants to sleep, you are in tune with your circadian rhythm and you get the benefit of the the stress repair that only happens between 11pm and 1am. Your mood the next day is better, your appetite is more normal, and you can focus on what you need to do. These things combined make for a more efficient human being. Which means you don’t need as much time to complete tasks, your friends and family are less likely to suffer your short patience or ill moods, and you get to feel better about being a human! You might also need less sleep than you thought in order to accomplish this if you go to bed early enough.

What if you decided, right now, that the most important thing you need to start doing is sleeping earlier and enough? The need for sleep is one of the first realities we deny. It starts when we’re kids. There’s something fun, more exciting about staying up later. We get addicted to having fun at the expense of taking care of ourselves, then later, addicted to cheating time so we can do more, have more, be more. But who are we kidding? This is a race that has no happy ending. It leads to stress, accidents, irritability, weight gain, illness, and early death. Nobody’s cheating anything here, far as I can tell.

That’s why I’m issuing this challenge to you, and to myself. I won’t apologize or ask anyone’s permission anymore to go to bed at 10:30. I won’t beat myself up if it doesn’t happen every night (like last night when I went to see the last Harry Potter movie) because it’s what you do MOST OF THE TIME that matters. I’m doing this so I can feel my best, be my most efficient self, pay attention to those I care about, and to be able to work out twice a week, take care of the house and garden, and still hold a job.

You could just try it for one night. One week. One month. If you accept your human need for sleep and begin to arrange your life differently to make it happen, you may find it easier to do this kind of prioritization with other things like meals, exercise, and meditation. The sky’s the limit! Consider this the first step on the path of self acceptance, which is where it all starts, where the rubber hits the road. You know all that striving we do, trying to get somewhere, to be happy? Self acceptance is actually the core, the real foundation, of happiness – not the stuff we are pursuing. And, if you care about that sort of thing, there’s a pretty serious body of research that shows this to be true. There’s really nothing to lose, and everything to gain here.

Drop a note if you decide to try it. Share your stories about making it happen. Together we can start a sleep movement! I’m over here doing my part. Hope you will too.

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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