Is Sleep Highly Overrated?

Is Sleep Highly Overrated?

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best good cures for anything.” — Irish proverb

There’s no denying it: Humans need sleep. An article from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School explores the reasons for this. It acknowledges that scientists have more theories than clear answers, but it concludes that sleep is critical to our wellness.

We simply feel better and more alert when we get enough sleep. We have improved mental function, concentration and hand-eye coordination. Our moods are elevated, communication flows more smoothly, and we’re better able to control impulses.

Conversely, lack of sleep jeopardizes health: Poor sleep is linked to cardiac disease, weight gain and hypertension. Unfortunately, daily responsibilities such as jobs, relationships, children, animals, elderly parents, school, and household chores can get in the way of getting good sleep.

Readers Weigh In on Sleep

Commenters left this feedback in an unofficial Facebook poll about sleep patterns:

  • “Seven and a half hours is perfect. Less than that and I allow for a late-afternoon, one-hour nap.”
  • “In the winter I need eight, and in the summer I need six.”
  • “I’m fairly certain I was close to sleep-deprivation psychosis when my son was nursing every two hours. I felt like it took me years to recover from that time period.”
  • “I suffered from sleep deprivation for three years after my youngest son was born when I was 26. He didn’t sleep through the night until he was almost 3. I felt like I was losing my mind. I put on 50 pounds that I have yet to lose 23 years later. For me, physical and mental activity makes a big difference.”
  • “Eight hours is perfect for me. Asleep before midnight and up just after sunrise. When sleep is disturbed, I’m up every few hours and meditate back to sleep. The next day, I am ready for a nap mid-afternoon.”
  • “I am currently wearing a ‘GoWalk’ bracelet that tracks my steps, and it also tracks sleep patterns. While I am usually in bed for eight hours, I find that I take 40 minutes to fall asleep, and then I wake up frequently for a sip of water or to go to the bathroom, so I am actually sleeping about six and a half hours.”
  • “I love sleep like I love ice cream. I will do anything to get more of both. As I have gotten older, I can’t sleep more than eight hours, because even with our Tempurpedic mattress, which I love, my back hurts.”

There’s also a link between insomnia and addiction. Cutting out alcohol and drugs can improve sleep, but there might be a gap in response time as the body gets used to the change in brain chemistry.

Walking (and Sleeping) My Talk

Even as a highly trained therapist who preaches the value of self-care, I often used to neglect sleep hygiene, which the National Sleep Foundation defines as “a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.”

For years, I’d work more than 12 hours a day and sleep for perhaps half that. I’d stay late at the office, head home, eat dinner quickly, sometimes on the road, go to the gym a few times a week, then write articles on wellness before going to bed. Even when my eyes were closed, my brain was active, going over the previous day and planning the next.

I felt like a hypocrite. And I experienced the side effects of poor sleep — weight gain, heart disease and high blood pressure. After I experienced a heart attack on June 14, 2014, my cardiologist informed me that sleep and cardiac wellness go hand in hand.

This dramatic wake-up call led to a whole-life makeover that includes a minimum of eight hours sleep a night. If that doesn’t happen, I schedule in a nap. I’m also acutely aware of when I’m feeling fatigue, and I respond by slowing my pace and managing my daily routine to allow for rejuvenation.

Although once upon a time I would laugh and say that sleep was highly overrated, I now know that it’s as essential as breathing — and ice cream.

By Edie Weinstein, LSW

Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1

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