This blog is a huge proponent of a balanced life—keeping it real by allowing time for the critical elements in life. Maintaining a balanced life includes equal time and attention for exercise, nutrition and sleep. Much has been written on this blog about exercise and and nutrition during the past year (and will continue to be). Today’s focus is on the third aspect of a balance life:
sleep — the never can get enough of, can’t live without it, wonderful sleep.
There are all kinds of studies related to the need for meaningful sleep. But achieving the best kind of sleep is often elusive. Part of the blame can be placed on one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, the light bulb. Invented by Thomas Edison in 1911, that one device turned our sleep world upside down. Previous to its development, people got up when the sun rose and went to bed when the sun went down. In the summer, they got a tad less sleep due to the longer days, and in the winter, they got a bit more sleep because of the shorter days. It all evened out. What mattered was that everyone’s body was accustomed to a regular amount of sleep and a routine sleep cycle. Enter the light bulb. It essentially provided an opportunity for endless days of never-ending light, allowing humans to extend their wake up hours and decrease their sleep hours as they desired.
Restful sleep requires complete darkness. If you think about it, in our light-bright world, we hardly ever find ourselves in perfect darkness. (Think of your neighbor’s porch light shining in your window or all the “power” lights illuminating from your vast assortment of technological devices, or the cute little night light you provide for your guests to find their way in the dark). It is really tricky to create an optimum sleeping environment.
Over-scheduling is another villain to meaningful sleep time. When I was raising my family, I was at my busiest. I routinely got up most mornings at 4:45 a.m. so that I could work out before getting ready for my day. My days were always filled to the brim with millions of tasks, appointments, and routine household activities for myself and my children. I went from one thing to the next, with hardly a minute to pause, well in to each night. Bedtime usually came around 10:30 p.m. On the average, I got a little over 6 hours of sleep a night. I am a morning person, so I was pretty attentive early in the day. But between 2:00 and 3:00 each afternoon, I hit the wall. I could manage it most times but relied on a second wind to get me through to my night time activities. If that second wind didn’t materialize, I was toast. Many a late night school board or church meeting found me fighting to stay awake and paying attention. Embarrassing. I wasn’t disinterested. Just sleep deprived.
So, how much sleep is enough? In April, 2011, the New York Times published information about a study that asked this question. The results of the study showed that eight hours of sleep nightly is the amount needed to maintain attention and cognitive abilities. The average American sleeps 6.9 hours on weeknights. What this means is that for most of us, our thinking is not as clear as it should be. “We are trading time awake at the expense of performance.” Performance to make clear decisions, to drive safely, to be aware of our surroundings, to be there for our friends and family. We just aren’t as sharp as we think we are because we aren’t getting the sleep we need to be at our best.
According to the book, Lights Out, lack of sleep is also associated with many modern day ailments: hormone deficiency, depression, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, overweight, heart disease, cancer, and dementia — ailments all to familiar to an aging generation. All of these problems can be tempered and even avoided by simply sleeping eight hours each night.
Getting more sleep sure makes a lot of sense for overall health and balance in our lives.