Sleep to dream.

Sleep. It pretty much runs our lives- yet most people don't get enough of it. Some of the statistics on the Center for Disease control and Prevention website are pretty astounding. 50-70 million Americans (adults) have a sleep disorder. Lack of sleep can result in depression, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, Cancer, and more. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while children need 10-11 and teens 9.5-10.5 hours. I blame this for my constant napping throughout high school!!
Anyways, I could sit here an throw statistics at you all day long, but the fact remains that plenty of us aren't getting enough sleep. The remainder of my "piece" on this is based not on authoritative websites but on a vast array of information I have mentally noted through years of reading pretty much every sleep deprivation article I could get my hands on.
It's my understanding that sleep is a time of healing. Your body is going, going, going ALL day long and the 8 hours (give or take) of rest time is when your brain takes a breather enough to recharge for tomorrow. This is also when your body heals itself of whatever ailments that it can, as well as rehydrates itself from the seventeen thousand cups of coffee you had that day. It's like putting yourself back on the charging dock so that your battery is back to 100%. In layman's terms: You need to sleep. Like, seriously.
There are a ton of reasons people don't get enough sleep. Mine has always been turning off my brain at night. I can't do it. Insert joke about my brain being turned off all day: here. I have a tendancy to sit there and stew over events that went poorly in my recent and even not so recent past, financial problems I forsee, excitement about whatever event is happening within the next 6 months... the list goes ridiculously on and on. Oh, and I've tried everything. I know this is going to make me sound downright awful but I've done the whole Nyquil thing, Unisom, Melatonin- you name it. The only thing I even slightly recommend is Melatonin or Chamomille tea. I wont take anything else unless I am seriously desparate. A lot of those sleep aids are habit-forming and even if they're considered "safe," I don't feel like anything that dishes out a case of dependancy can be all that good for you.
I think that what it all comes down to is lifestyle. The times when my sleep has been good have always been when my mind is still, my muscles have been used, and my body is relaxed. So what it comes down to is: how do I get THERE? I've had problems sleeping for as long as I can remember, and this is what works for me (or what I recommend). Some people have much more serious problems, however, and should seek professional help beyond my magazine-reading suggestions.
1. Exercise. I do yoga. Been doing it for over 15 years. There's something serene and relaxing about stretching yourself out and getting your blood flowing. You can do more strenuous activity (which I totally recommend) but it's generally better if you do it more than 3 hours before you plan to go to sleep. Your body is a machine, and if you aren't tired by bedtime then it's my unprofessional opinion that you're probably not working yourself hard enough during the day. Even those gym-goers may have different needs than other people. If you're doing an hour of cardio and still not tired by midnight- do more! It's also important to exercise your brain. If your mind is running all night, you're probably not exhausting yourself enough during the day. Challenge yourself. Learn something new. The reason children and teens need more sleep is that they're maxing out their brain capacity with expanding knowledge all day. If you're not tired, you're probably not challenging yourself enough!
2. Get rid of your day. I shower almost immediately when I get home from work. I'm a huge supporter of hydrotherapy and I think there's a certain symbolism to washing your day away from you. If I can't shower, or if I have to go straight from work to something else- I at least wash my face and put my hair up away from my neck. It really refreshes you.
3. Meditate. This is a new one for me. Call it hokey, call it whatever you want- but meditation has been dubbed as extremely beneficial by a gazillion researchers. You learn to still your mind in the midst of commotion. Life is always, always, always going to be hectic. It's not in learning to avoid dillema that we find calm- it's in finding a way to sit peacefully with it that we will be able to move forward. Besides, I've said it a hundred times, a great majority of life's problems will solve themselves if you give them the opportunity to.
4. Have a routine. This is a huge one for me. I try to go to bed at the same time every night. I also eat an early dinner so that I have time to wash dishes and wind down prior to sleeping. Late, hectic nights are pretty much the enemy of sleep. Get up at the same time every day- even on weekends. I've tried to do the sleep in late thing and I always kick myself for it.
5. Kick Fido and Conan out of your room. You don't need anything else keeping you awake. If your pet sleeps pretty soundly, he can stay. For myself-I generally end up kicking Newps out within an hour of trying to sleep because she insists on bathing herself at midnight and that whole licking noise is like nails on a chalkboard for me. Gross. Same goes for the television... if it helps you sleep, go for it. Most researchers will tell you to keep it to the living room, though.
So that's it. Sorry if this post is boring, but it's seriously important to get enough sleep. I can always tell a huge difference in my day when I've been having one too many sleepless nights. As a final note: don't beat yourself up too badly if you don't get a great night sleep. Psyching yourself out an additional night over last night's lack of sleep is obviously unwise. Just get back into the groove of things and you'll be fine.

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