Our culture measures success with money and power. What if instead, we measured success by our relationships, our ability to give of ourselves, and our level of happiness and contentment? We can begin to re-evaluate our definition of success, but first we need to take a look at one of the most common factors affecting our relationships, our health, and our level of well being. Our quality of sleep is directly correlated to all of these things.
We are conditioned to think that the goal is to minimize downtime. We wear sleep deprivation like a badge of honor. Many of us sleep very little during the week and then too much on the weekend, intending to "make up" for our deficit.
Most of us need 6-8 hours of sleep to recharge our batteries, so to speak. A few people can function on 4-5 hours, but this is actually a genetic mutation that only affects about 1% of the population. You can do a genetic test if you’re concerned that you just don’t need as much sleep as most people.
For myself, I know I function optimally with at least 7 hours of sleep. Most of us probably know where we fall within that 6-8 hours to feel our best. Once we’ve established what we operate best at, that should become a priority for us.
Depression is directly correlated with sleep deprivation, but instead of getting more sleep, many will prefer to just take a pill. An unbelievable 41% of people are on some sort of pharmaceutical sleep aid. One in ten Americans take antidepressants, but most don't have clinical depression.
We all deal with stress in our lives, but the question is, how fast do we cause correct? How do we react to our stressors? Our reaction to stress is determined by how much sleep we get. When we’re sleep deprived we take things more personally, are more easily irritated, and our decision making isn’t as clear.
While working on my doctorate degree, I remember waking up 4 AM, several hours before the rest of my family, and hitting the books again after I put my kids to bed. I worked on my dissertation for several years this way. It took a toll on my health and my relationships. Ironically, the topic of my research had to do with the way insomnia exacerbates mental disorders.
We mistakenly think that if we sleep a little less, we’ll be able to get more done, when in reality we are minimizing our effectiveness. When we are fully rested we are better able to be present throughout our day instead of just checking things off our to-do-list and going through the motions.
Making sleep a priority starts as a discipline, but quickly becomes a valuable and necessary component of our lives once we note the difference it makes. It affects our emotional well-being, creativity, performance, problem solving, focus, immune system, and physical health. When we’re sleep deprived our cortisol levels increase, causing us to feel stressed.
It is during sleep that the cerebrospinal fluid washes away our brain's waste products. During the slow oscillations characteristic of deep sleep, the hippocampus (this stores your recently acquired memories) and the cortex (the part of the brain where long term memories are housed) are communicating with each other - consolidating our memories every night.
When we go to work rested, our focus and memory is improved and we feel energized and productive. It is myopic to think that more time at work equals more productivity. The truth is, if we’re more efficient we can spend less time working but get much more accomplished.
To experiment with finding your ideal sleep schedule, keep a sleep diary for a couple of weeks, noting what time you went to bed and what time you woke up, how rested you felt, your overall mood, and how productive the day seemed.
We might also notice that when we are sleep deprived we don't remember our dreams as much. When we don't remember our dreams we are missing out on connecting with another part of ourselves. Dreams don't always have a deep meaning or provide profound insights, but sometimes they do. If you are interested in dreams, read my post on lucid dreaming.
Making sleep a priority in our lives will translate to success in the ways that are most important. We'll have more patience with our loved ones, feel better equipped to give more of ourselves, and feel better both physically and emotionally. Sweet dreams!
I write about human behavior, meditation, body awareness, and a variety of other things that pique my interest.