7. Nature’s Nightly Restorer.
Shakespeare appreciated sleep; he wrote of
“the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”
Science is discovering that he was quite right, if in more concrete terms, such as via impacts on the immune system, metabolism, memory, learning and all aspects of human functioning. Most people feel lacking in energy and focus after going a night or two without sleep, as if some important source of maintenance has been cut off and needs to be plugged into again. Where trauma, including bad news and stressful situations, is concerned, a vicious circle may set in as anxiety itself can be a severe disrupter of sleep. Everybody goes through an occasional period of missed sleep, so exercising patience and making allowances for having to deal with shocks of one kind or another are the first steps to take in order not to worsen the problem. At the same time, nipping sleep-loss in the bud makes everything easier to handle in the long run because getting enough sleep renews physical and mental processes as directly as food does. Sleep itself is one of the strengths that gets people through crises much better.
Many tips and trivia about sleep are broadcast, much of them helpful, but beware of some popular misconceptions and to-do lists that treat everyone the same. The NIH supplies a little guide to healthy sleep that’s free to download. Most healthy adults need between seven and a half to nine hours sleep per night. Self-observation using a diary if necessary to log waking and sleeping times, moods, sense of tiredness during the day etcetera will soon reveal the individual picture. Without enough, a sleep debt builds up and exhausts resources that the body and mind should be drawing on. Frequently-heard suggestions – avoiding meals and stimulating drinks before bedtime, having a sleep routine, doing without a television and lighting during the night, taking actions to block out environmental noises that cut into deep sleep – can all lead to impressive improvements.
Medication suits some people but because of dependency and side-effect issues, are preferably a short-term solution. Behavioural or habit changes are frequently required for more enduring results, which can be difficult to do without support. Doctors and counsellors are becoming better versed in sleep matters, and sleep clinics are flourishing. Making genuine efforts, with endless self-compassion, to practise the more readily-accessible recommendations can overhaul and recalibrate poor sleep level. If that is not effective, look for more specialist help, for which rates of recovery are good. Regular sound rest makes every difference.