If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you are one of millions of sleep deprived Americans. In a 2008-2009 study by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), approximately one third of respondents aged 25-65 and an astonishing 43.7 percent of 18-25 year olds unintentionally fell asleep at least once in the past month.
Often the problem is not how many hours you devote to sleep, but the poor quality of that sleeping experience. Perhaps you have trouble falling asleep, or wake up at all hours unable to return to sleep, or have trouble waking up in the morning because you don't feel rested after sleep. The consequences of all of the above are significant, including being unable to focus at work, or learn in the classroom, or be able to safely drive a car.
No matter how dedicated you are to getting a good night's sleep, it has become increasingly difficult. Technology has overloaded our information capacity, put us in instant response mode, promoted multi-tasking, and caused us to feel like we must be "on" at all times.
I recently had a gentleman tell me that he went to bed every night with phone in hand, surfing social media, until he fell asleep. And he wondered why he was so tired! He had no idea that if he hoped to feel rested after sleeping, he would need to develop a way to begin disconnecting as the bedtime hour approached.
But it takes more than a solid bedtime ritual to promote good sleep. The foundation of regenerative sleep, an absolute necessity for a healthy life, is built during the day.
Modern life has thrown us into some level of the fight or flight response nearly all the time. That means we have a constant drip of stress hormones entering into our system, keeping us on alert, unable to relax. The only way to overcome the negative effects of prolonged exposure to a physical state that was originally intended to protect us from high risk for short periods of time, is to interrupt that state and go into a conscious, self-induced state of mental rest. Just like training your body in the gym, learning to create relief from the constant flow of stress is a mental training, and not necessarily something you are good at naturally. You have to learn it and you have to practice.
Think of the physical sensations you experience when stress is at its highest level during the day, or comes on unexpectedly. Your chest feels tight making it more difficult to breathe, your jaw begins to grind, you perspire, and feel tension in your face that turns into a headache. If you cannot find a way to take control of those symptoms and reset your mental state, it is likely to build upon itself as the day progresses, with no relief. A quality night of sleep with that accumulation of stress already working against you is difficult at best.
If we admit that stress is a controlling presence in our life, then we must educate ourselves as to how to take back control of our own mental state. That isn't to say that we can eliminate stress from our lives because we can't. What we can control is how we respond to it, rather than simply react to it over and over.
In this series, we will be exploring methods and techniques to do just that. You may be surprised at how simple and effective they can be. With a commitment to a healthier state of mind during the day, one of the most profound benefits will be better quality sleep. Stay tuned.