My elders passed along down-to-earth wisdom:
- Think good thoughts.
- Eat a balanced diet of real food.
- Enjoy the company of friends and family.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Get regular exercise outdoors.
I’m amazed by my long-standing disregard for that second-to-last piece of advice, the one about getting plenty of sleep.
I ain't alone. Plenty of people pride themselves on “getting by” on less than 8 hours of sleep. My Buddhist studies haven’t helped; among the 5 major hindrances is “sloth and torpor.” It’s so...zen...to get up at 5:00 to meditate even if you got to bed late the night before.
My doctor made me aware of how I was shutting me eyes to the importance of sleep. He asked me to listen to a 60-minutes audio file on sleep. The transcript is here: Sleep.
Luckily, I managed not to doze off as I listened. I learned about several scientific studies (Berkeley, Chicago, Boston) that have linked sleep deprivation to:
- impaired memory and cognitive ability
- high blood pressure
- accident proneness
- impaired sexual function
- decreases of appetite-regulating hormones
- acceleration the aging process
- heart disease
This list grabbed my attention. I decided to take action.
My doctor said, “I think you’ll find that every hour you sleep before midnight is worth two hours past midnight. Try to get to bed by 9:00.”
“9:00? Not possible.” I thought.
“It's possible," he said, reading my mind. "When the sun goes down, turn off all screens. TV, computers, cell phones, everything. Grab a book. Write in a journal. Meditate. Have some herbal tea. Sundown, screens off. ”
Well, maybe possible. I don’t have TV or a cell phone; my challenge has been/is/will be the computer.
Five days into this experiment, I’m getting more sleep. My mood’s improved markedly. My blood pressure numbers have come down 10 points, and I’m WAY less hungry because I'm not confusing tiredness with hunger. (When I'm sleep deprived, I really need rest. But I've misinterpreted tiredness as a need more caffeine and food energy...Where's my teapot? I want a shot of sencha to wash down a Clif bar.) I'm sure I'll backslide on this intention, fudge a bit from time to time. But it's a good rule of thumb and I'll be happy to bat 800.
Maybe screens have been eclipsing the deep and natural magic of the night.
May your dreams be sweet.