Self-care can look like a lot of different things. In fact, there are many components to giving yourself the attention you need in order to feel and look your best. One thing that we often overlook when it comes to taking care of ourselves is rest. That’s right, sleep. It is an essential part of living. Did you know that we spend about a third of our lives sleeping? With the average life span being about 80 years, we spend about 318 months in our beds.
Although 318 months is a lot of down time, it is definitely not at all a waste. Our bodies are doing so much work while we are sleeping. Perhaps when you were a child, your parents would tell you that if you didn’t go to sleep, you would be stunting your growth. This is true to some extent for children, but when it comes to adults, not getting enough rest can also stunt some of your growth and more importantly your regrowth.
Making Repairs and Connections
When we are asleep, our bodies have the opportunity to repair cell damage and muscles. It also allows your body’s tissues to regenerate and grow as you require. When you are in your deepest sleep, your muscles are relaxed and the blood supply to them is increased. The increased life force is restoring your energy and repairing those muscles, you know that ones that carry your children, friends, siblings and significant other—the muscles that take you to and from work, the gym and everywhere else.
Rest also gives energy to your brain. It helps to consolidate memories, and make connections between new an old information. Sleep also helps to regulate several hormones that affect our appetite. So don’t be surprised if you’re having a hard time managing your hunger or food choices when you’re not well rested. Getting adequate rest will help your body to get rid of excess cortisol, a stress hormone that can do a lot of damage when our bodies have too much of it floating around.
You’ve probably heard it said that we need about 8 hours of sleep per night. Depending on your body’s preferences, adults generally need between 5 and 7 hours rest each night. This means 5 to 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Teens and young adults need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep, while children and babies need between 12 and 16 hours of sleep each night. It may sound like overkill, but as we discussed earlier, our bodies are working hard when we sleep.
You want to get enough sleep in so that you can be more productive and feel more energized and alert during the daytime (or nighttime if you work the night shift). If you’re not sure how much sleep your body prefers, do a little trial and error. Track your sleep hours and journal or pay close attention to how you feel when you are awake. Try 8 hours, try 5 hours and others in between. Note the amount that leaves you feeling well rested and productive. Then make try to make it a habit to get that many hours in each night.
The quality of your sleep is also important. You want to have uninterrupted sleep in order to reap the full benefits of sleep. There is non-REM (NREM) sleep and REM sleep (REM meaning rapid eye movement). Alternating NREM and REM sleep cycles about every 90 minuets. When your sleep is constantly being interrupted (snoring, sleep apnea, babies, etc.) your body is having its repair processes interrupted and may not be completing the work. Your immune system will also notice the interruptions, and you may find yourself more prone to illnesses when you aren’t getting enough sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, quality sleep means:
- That more of your time in bed is spent sleeping.
- That you fall asleep within 30 minutes of getting in bed.
- That you don’t wake up more than once each night.
- That you’re awake for less than 20 minutes once you fall asleep.
If you find that you are not meeting these standards, you may want to participate in a sleep study or start journaling your sleep experiences to pinpoint your problem.
Because we sleep for a third of our beautiful lives, there are two thirds of living left that can be impacted but the quantity and quality of the sleep we get. Make sure that your sleep counts so that you can make the best out of your wakeful hours. As the mother of small children, I know that getting enough rest is definitely easier to say than to do, but so is taking care of ourselves sometimes. Someone always needs our attention, our help or whatever else we have to give. But empty cups can’t fill another cup, much less a pitcher. So let’s make the decision not try to give ourselves this very important time.