I think we all know that there's nothing like a good night's sleep to renew and refresh us. But studies indicate that it is also vital to our physical well-being. According to the CDC, it is an essential part of a healthy life and the prevention of chronic diseases and conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression. Lack of sleep also causes car and other vehicular accidents, and has been shown to be as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. The CDC reports that more than one-quarter of people in the U.S. report occasionally not getting enough sleep, and almost 10% suffer from chronic insomnia.
The CDC and other organizations have found that adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, although that can vary with individuals. I know that if I have the chance to sleep in, I awake naturally after 8-9 hours, or less in the summer when it's sunny earlier in the morning. How often do I get that much sleep? Rarely. Usually it's 6-7 hours, which is probably pretty good for most people. I've found that in order to function well at my job, I need to get that amount on most nights if I want to be on top of my game, alert, and productive. I learned a long time ago that being up until 1 or 2 AM didn't bode well for my abilities during the work day.
Sleep is a way for our bodies to heal. If we are sick, what is the first thing we want to do? Stay in bed and sleep. It's our body's way of repairing damage, and our immune system's way of fighting off the marauding Huns of bacteria and viruses. While we sleep, our body can put all of its efforts into cellular repair, damage control, and defense. It's a remarkable thing, but we have to give it a chance to work.
It's also a chance to repair our wounded psyches. We all wonder about various dreams that we have--some are funny, some are scary, and some are downright disturbing. We are constantly stimulated during the day with images, sounds, situations, thoughts, memories...what's a poor, overworked mind to do? Dream. Every night, we clean out the attic of our mind by dreaming, and we have no control over it. Someone from our distant past can appear alongside someone we see every day, someone we've never met can speak to us, and we can experience surrealistic situations that we would never see in real life. Some dream analysis has merit, and if we think about it, we can usually figure it out, but I find that most dreams are nothing more than our minds breaking out a big vacuum cleaner and sucking up the detritus of our day, assembling it all into an interesting movie, and then chucking the whole mess into the trash.
Some people say that they'll sleep when they're dead. True enough, and I find that most days, I wish I had more time to do the things I want to do and still get a solid 8 hours of sleep. That doesn't usually happen, because how can a person fit in a day of work, dinner, time with family or friends, and time to relax with TV, a movie, or reading, and still get 8 hours? I'm not sure it can be done. But every so often, there are times when I say, "I need to sleep," and I go to bed at 8:30. It happens rarely, but it's very restorative. If I'm physically and mentally exhausted, just the sheer indulgence of going to bed that early can give me a sort of boost, knowing that I chose to give my brain a chance to shut down. Sometimes we need to prioritize and listen to what our body is telling us. "For the love of God, will you please get some sleep! I'm dyin' here!"
As the CDC says, "sufficient sleep is not a luxury—it is a necessity."