The Priority of Sleep

To sleep or not to sleep, that is the question for many of us. No matter what stage of life, from infancy to our last days, sleep is always a priority. This has never been truer for me than in the last month.

It doesn’t matter if we are infants, parents of infants, stressed teens or adults, or older adults wrestling with sleep issues, every stage of life presents sleep challenges. Infants, children and even teens need extra sleep for brains to process and develop adequately. Parents of said children need sleep to be able to parent them well. As adults, many issues can interfere with sleep, some we have control over and others we don’t. Older adults often have their sleep interrupted by changing physical conditions and surroundings. Numerous variables impact our sleep, but the one thing that is constant is how important sleep is to our mental and physical wellness.

In the last month, I’ve dealt with physical issues, caregiving challenges and also mental roadblocks which have impacted my sleep. I understand the importance of sleep to mental and physical wellness, but not all the circumstances were under my control. I imagine this has happened to all of us at one time or another. So what can we do?

Control what we can and manage the rest.

At times, I chose less sleep due to unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances. Other times, physical issues made sleeping more difficult and still other nights, worry invaded my peaceful rest. Not all of these were of my own doing. But I did strive to balance what I could to achieve at least a decent amount of sleep. Now that many of the issues have been or are resolved, my sleep is improving. But in the midst of the worst, I did what I could to manage.

A recent article reminded me of what’s all at stake with sleep and our memories. Our brain links memories with the rest of our world when we sleep. If this process doesn’t occur for whatever reason, we wind up not functioning as well mentally or physically the next day. Our memories are impacted and we cannot make decisions well. None of these are helpful as we try to function and learn whether as children or adults.

Here are a few tips that may be helpful when sleep challenges arise:

  1. Make sleep a priority. Don’t put it off thinking you can make it up later. Set a  bedtime and try to stick to it. If you literally can’t sleep as much as you should due to unforeseen circumstances, do your best to get as much as you can and get back on track ASAP.
  2. Don’t do anything but sleep. Don’t eat or watch TV, don’t worry or wonder, let it all go and rest. Write down any concerns you have, try to relax and let sleep come. Often new solutions rise when we lay down our worries with our heads.
  3. Try to plan for contingencies. If physical issues could cause problems while sleeping, take preventative measures. If too hot, use a fan. If in discomfort, try a new position or different pillow arrangements. Think ahead to solve some issues in advance.
  4. If sleep deprived, try a nap. If a good night’s sleep was missed, a short (~30 minute) nap the next day can be incredibly helpful and refreshing.
  5. Keep trying. There will be days and even weeks when sleep eludes us for various reasons in life. But let’s not slide into bad habits. Keep trying to get back on track to a healthy sleep schedule. Our bodies and minds will thank us.

Sleep is an integral part of our lives from birth to death. How we learn to manage and make it a priority in our lives will make an enormous difference in the quality of our lives. So here’s to sleeping well, remembering more and enjoying life one moment at a time.

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