A woman came to me for counseling to help her leave her marriage. “What I really want,” she said, “is to leave my 3 kids, my job, and my town, but I’ll start with my husband.” I asked her questions about the simplest areas of her life. Eating habits, exercise, use of medications, drugs, alcohol, and overall general health.
She wanted to complain about her 3 overwhelming children and her annoying husband, but she patiently answered my questions and revealed that she usually slept only 4 hours a night. This was not because of insomnia. “I have no time to sleep,” she said.
She explained she worked rotating shifts, had forced overtime, and didn’t want to miss family events like athletic competitions, recitals, etc. “The only way I can do it all is to not sleep,” she said.
“Are you enjoying all these events?” I asked.
“No. I hate myself. I yell at my husband, I scream at my kids, I tear out my hair.”
I instructed her to take at least a week to catch up on sleep. I insisted she take time off from work if she had to. I wouldn’t see her again until she did.
2 weeks later she came back, clear skinned, sparkly eyed, and… “I’m so in love with my husband,” she said. “My kids are the smartest and most loving people I know. How could I have let myself go insane like that? I feel great.”
Most problems are not solved this easily, but this wasn’t the only time I’ve accomplished an instant cure.
A man came to me with the same complaints: marital misery, frustrating kids, job stress. He was a husband, a father, a full-time worker, and a triathlete. “If I sleep more than 4 hours a day,” he said, “I can’t do all the rigorous physical training involved in competing in triathlons. And if I don’t do triathlons, I’ll be more depressed than I am now.”
He was reluctant to train less, but I got him to agree to sleep more and give up some training time. Only 2 weeks later, his time and stamina improved in all 3 events of swimming, cycling, and running. Problems at home with his child and wife had diminished.
Another miracle cure.
Sleep deprivation distorts your thinking and wreaks havoc on your emotions. Whenever you have a choice of one of these 3 things:
ALWAYS choose sleep first. Your brain desperately needs it. And without your brain, nothing else works.
I’m talking about sleep deprivation by choice, not the suffering from insomnia that we don’t ask for. I’ll talk about that in another post.
Why do people choose to be sleep deprived?
- I’m more productive if I sleep less.
- I don’t want to miss anything.
- Sleep is boring.
- I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
Stop kidding yourself. You need, on average, 8 hours of sleep.
How do you know if you need 7 or 9? See what happens if you don’t set a clock. Let yourself sleep as long as you want for a long enough period of time. (A week maybe, to get used to a natural circadian rhythm.)
Neuroscience is still figuring out why we need sleep. One theory says that during sleep, your neurons rid themselves of the toxins that build up during waking hours. Although the reason for sleep is uncertain, one thing is sure: Sleep is vital to your health and sanity.
The next time you feel discouraged, depressed, or hopeless, try sleeping before you do anything else.
Remember, sleep is one of the most delicious experiences in life. Enjoy it!