Something About Sleep

And You May be Surprised…

How do you feel when you don’t get enough sleep? Okay tired, what else? Maybe guilty (that you will let down your kids, coworkers, boss, clients…). Maybe worried (that your whole day will be wrecked). The Buddha said there were two arrows. The first arrow is the thing that happened, as in not the best night’s sleep. This is pain and it passes. The second arrow is what we make of the thing that happened. This, the Buddha says is suffering. If, as I lay me down to sleep, I am clutched with dread that insomnia will happen again, chances are pretty good that it will. If what we make of our insomnia can cause the insomnia itself, then we are the second arrow cause of the suffering – because we have let ourselves become tyrannized and traumatized by some idea in the head about sleep that may not even be true.

So how much sleep do we need? Not so clear. The CDC says one thing. New research says another. The CDC recommends 7-8 hours/night for adults, to help ward off illness, accidents, and work ineptness due to insufficient sleep. Go here to see for yourself: (http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsSleep/index.html). Which brings me to something I call “The Misery Gap,” referring to the space between the way things are (reality) and the way we think things ought to be (expectations). The greater the space between reality and expectations, the greater the opportunity for us to make ourselves entirely miserable all by ourselves. One more expectation to worry about not meeting every day – Sleep. So then, how do we shrink that space between reality and expectations to shrink the misery about sleep that can cause sleep misery itself?

One way might be to challenge the expectation that we even need that 7-8 hours sleep – which is exactly what researchers including UCLA’s international sleep authority, Jerome Siegel, have done. What they found was that the average of 6.5 hours clocked by present day hunter-gatherers closely matched “the low end of sleep averages documented among adults in industrialized societies in Europe and America.”[1] The hunter-gatherers are not tired; they hardly even nap. In fact, the studies show them to be healthier and more physically fit than many of us are. And I’m going to guess they don’t give a hoot about not meeting the CDC’s recommendation, and maybe they sleep less without fatigue for other reasons related to healthier living too. But now we know. If less than 7 hours is your thing, and it’s okay with you and okay for you, then it’s okay. No more worries. You have lowered your expectations and shrunk your misery gap, without doing another thing.

What else can we do if we care to, on the reality side, to improve the quality and reduce the angst related to sleep. Typical recommendations for this include: Keeping the blue light out of the bedroom, reserving the bedroom for sleep and sex only, adhering to a regular wake-up time, reducing caffeine and alcohol, increasing exercise but not right before bed, and if you can’t sleep get up and do something unstimulating until you feel drowsy again. Anything else? Of course…Meditation. Study after study point to the sleep benefits of meditation, along with my client who only realized how disturbed his sleep had been after he trained with me in meditation, for other reasons, and was surprised to find that he started to sleep and dream.* There are apps aplenty for meditation. Some are geared for sleepy time meditations, although I would caution that some forms of meditation may leave you feeling too alert and energized to sleep. Here a regular early morning meditation can bring a more generalized calming that lasts throughout the day to help you sleep at night. Find something you like. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Phone:  202.617.0821

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

[1] Yetish et al., “Natural Sleep and Its Seasonal Variations in Three Pre-industrial Societies,” Current Biology (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.046

*Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

 

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