Sleep As Self-Care

Lately I’ve been struggling to get enough sleep to function properly, and though it’s definitely a me-problem, I think in society it’s enough of an us-problem that I can talk about it. I know I’m not alone in being so tired every day that coffee doesn’t really even work any more. I know it’s not just me, because when I ask how someone is, nearly everyone answers with some form of, “a little tired”.

We do it to ourselves, whether by choice or necessity and it’s cruel. Sleep deprivation used to be a torture tactic for one’s enemies, yet we willfully do it to ourselves all the time. For some of us, we just want to watch the next episode, or spend a few minutes alone to ourselves when the household is asleep. For others, it’s work or school motivated. For others, insomnia takes over and we are tortured against our will – by ourselves. No matter our motivation to stay awake when we should sleep, it’s still hurting us. We build a sleep debt that science says we can’t make up.

Not getting adequate sleep can affect our health too. From our metabolism to our immune system, everything in our bodies depends on quality sleep. Recently I was sick for a whole week, and I’m sure my sleep debt had something to do with it. And though I slept a lot while home sick, I still felt guilty for sleeping and not completing all my duties.

My personal sleep debt is caused by wearing too many hats. I’m a mom, a student, a janitor, a church leader, etc. My busy schedule has me occupied from 5am ‘till midnight, and often later. I keep telling myself this is just for a short season, but the truth is it is unsustainable. At some point I need to stop believing the rhetoric that ‘sleep is for the weak,’ and embrace the newer trend of seeing sleep as self-care.

Self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress” and “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. Frequently people think of practices such as yoga or meditation as self-care. Could something so simple as sleep qualify? Absolutely! It preserves health, and certainly well-being. It may be the most affordable, accessible, effective self-care available. Sleep should probably be our go-to remedy instead of a last-ditch effort to feel better and like ourselves again.

When a full night of quality sleep isn’t an option, there are other ways to take advantage of sleep’s benefits. Power naps, or cat-naps, as they used to be called, can give the system a temporary jolt of alertness to get by for a bit. Short naps of ten to twenty minutes also lower risk of heart disease and lower stress levels. I’ll take that, thank you very much!

So to combat my busy schedule and stress I’m going to consider taking cat-naps in my car before and after work. This should help me achieve a safer drive home, a healthier body and a calmer mind. Besides, anything named after a feline has to be good for me! I’m also going to work on feeling good about listening to my body and getting my rest instead of feeling guilty for not being able to do it all. Easier said than done, for sure, but that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to learn and grow and expand my mind. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to a cat-nap for my health…