We spend about one third of our life sleeping, which is roughly 56 hours a week, 240 hours a month, and 2920 hours a year. Seems like a huge amount of time when put that way to be doing nothing. Or are we really not doing anything?
Sleep is absolutely essential to a healthy brain, and when we sleep, our brains are surprisingly active. I know after my brain injury, I did not begin serious healing until I started sleeping deeply and contiguously.
Over the first year after the global brain injury, encephalopathy, I slept sixteen or eighteen hours a day often, well into the afternoon, but. I would get up and answer the phone when it rang though. It was usually my Dad checking on me. “What you doing?” he would ask.. “Oh, nothing much,” I would answer groggily. At least I was honest. Because the neurologist told my family not to let me sleep more than ten hours a day, I felt like I had to hide how much I was sleeping.
Giving in to my body’s need for sleep was the first instance I can remember doing what my body innately needed to do in order to heal and not following the medical recommendation. (It wouldn’t be the last.) Smart girl. I discovered in my research that sleep, and lots of it, is absolutely essential for recovering from a brain injury. In sleep is when the brain heals.
For all that time spent horizontal, I never really felt rested and was always sleepy because my sleep was not deep or contiguous. I woke several times throughout and had trouble going back to sleep. So, I would get up and take a bath. Some nights, I know I took as many as 4 or 5 baths until my fingers got all wrinkly. Something about the water was soothing to me, but all too often it did not help me to go back to sleep. Squeaky clean, I would lie in the bed, in that half asleep and half awake state, for hours until I got bored and decided to take another bath.
My brain started major healing when I started sleeping better shortly after beginning neurofeedback therapy, where electrodes were attached to my head and my brainwaves were actually trained to perform within an optimal range. Neurofeedback made a huge, dramatic difference for me in recovering from the brain injury.
Hopefully you don’t have a brain injury, but did you know sleep can still make a tremendous difference in your life? Studies have shown that sleep enhances your immune system, your motor skills, your language processing, your memory, and much more, but most of all it greatly increases your ability to learn.
Rats deprived of sleep die within a matter of 2 to 3 weeks, and it is practically impossible to kill those animals otherwise. Total sleep deprivation in humans is fatal. Lack of adequate rest will start showing very quickly as problems with executive function, mood, memory, attention, logic and even speech and coordination. Coffee will not help. Only sleep does.
I used to pride myself on being able to go without sleep, and this trait sure came in handy in my baby raising days, but not anymore. Post brain injury, I love my sleep. I consider it a treat when I can go to bed early and love to take naps during the day. I know, I know, I’m getting old and boring. A NASA study showed that a 26 minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 35%. Talk about a power nap.
You may not realize how important sleep is in your own life or how the lack of it can be manifesting itself everyday for you. Inadequate sleep is highly correlated with many things that greatly impact quality of life from stress and anxiety to depression and more…studies even show that lack of sleep is linked to gaining weight.
Make an effort to get more, sound sleep for a couple of days and see if you don’t feel better. Then, make it a habit. Treat yourself.