AM Inspiration: O magic sleep! O comfortable bird - John Keats

Are you getting enough sleep, and is it something to lose any sleep over? Depending on who you listen to, Americans are sleep-deprived to the extent that it affects our wellbeing, or we're doing okay. A National Geographic article, "U.S. Racking Up Huge Sleep Debt", connected Americans' fewer-than-eight-hours-a-night sleep patterns with a compromised immune system and higher risk for diseases like diabetes. The article suggests that our sleep habits may have something to do with the national infatuation with caffeine.

"The dependency on caffeine and the whole Starbucks culture is certainly one proof that our society is sleepier than ever before," said William Dement, a pioneering sleep researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

While that may be true, I've noticed that for me the drowsiness-caffeine-sleeplessness cycle does not just work in one direction. Drinking more than a critical volume of caffeine during the day makes it harder to go to sleep that night, ensuring that I will be drowsy the next day and in need of a little jolt, or three.  Making healthful choices while awake tends to help me sleep better.  Chronic insomnia, or sleep disorders like sleep apnea, are serious problems that can definitely affect overall health, but for those who feel chronically under-rested there may be some lifestyle changes within easy reach.

  • Keep a sleep diary. Sometimes troublesome patterns aren't clear until you start writing them down. Keep track of how much caffeine you consume each day, exercise, mealtimes and other activities. As you make changes it will be easier to see what makes a difference.

  • Caffeinate consciously. I've worked at the right balance of caffeine for years and have come to the conclusion that one serving in the morning really does help my brain get moving faster. Some people find that the post-coffee jitters are actually counter-productive. Make the right choice for yourself, but keep in mind that caffeine content varies widely from beverage to beverage, with most teas coming in lower than coffees and sodas. Get a rundown of caffeine levels--they may surprise you.

  • Exercise. Many of us are mentally tired at the end of a long day that has been mostly sedentary, but our bodies are not as ready for sleep. Exercise also relieves stress which could otherwise keep you tossing and turning.

  • Find ways to release stress. A recent poll found that one-third of Americans are losing sleep worrying about the economy or their own financial problems. These concerns are real, but sacrificing shut-eye to worrying doesn't lead to an increased ability to deal with them the next day. One wonders if Shakespeare had insomnia: he makes many references to the healing powers of sleep and its elusiveness during times of mental turmoil:

    Macbeth,  Act II, Scene II

    Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,

    The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,

    Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,

    Chief nourisher in life's feast,--

    While some see dreams as a reflection of daily concerns, sleep itself--how easily it comes or if it comes--is a reflection of our overall wellbeing. Finding some outlet for stressors before your head hits the pillow gives sleep less "care" to knit up.

  • Create a sleep space. Some of our modern restlessness must stem from the encroachment of work and gadgets upon what used to be "off" time. The Blackberry stays on next to the bed. The email is silently racking up messages nearby. Sleep specialists recommend following the same steps every night to condition body and mind to relax: once you put on your pajamas, for instance, no more email or phone. Drink a hot cup of (caffeine free) tea with relaxing qualities like chamomile. Read a leisure book. Whatever your recipe for relaxation is, discover it and stick to it, courting sleep with respect.

  • Compromise on weekends. Depending on your work schedule, this may not be possible, but consider not sleeping in excessively on the weekend; variations in your sleep schedule make it that much harder to fall asleep on schedule come Sunday night.

If you're in need of a relaxing story to read before sleep, try this traditional Ramadan story about the kingdoms of sleep and no-sleep. There's just enough zany repetition to help lull you to sleep.

Or think about these restful poems:

XXXII by Percy Shelley

The cloud-shadows of midnight possess their own repose,

The weary winds are silent or the moon is in the deep;

Some respite to its turbulence unresting ocean knows;

Whatever moves, or toils, or grieves, hath its appointed sleep.

XLIV by John Keats

O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,

That broodest o'er the troubled sea of the mind

Till it is hush'd and smooth! O unconfin'd...

—who, upfurl'd

Beneath thy drowsy wing a triple hour

But renovates and lives?

Tags: Caffeine, Health, Lifestyle, Poetry, Relax, Sleep

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