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August 23, 2014

Ode to Sleep. ~ Kathryn E. Livingston

Lauren Hammond/Flickr Creative Commons

Sleep is a balm for the body and soul.

It nourishes and replenishes. It offers us time away from our worries.

Rest is a gift at the end of a day of rushing.

It can also be an escape, a place to hide and a way to avoid people, jobs and responsibilities.

It’s a dark cave to crawl into after someone we love has died. There is no safer, better place to be than sound asleep when the reality of loss pounds in our hearts.

Sleep is a way to run from physical and emotional pain to a harbor of calm if you can get to it.

I once found that it’s also a way to quit smoking. The most difficult butt of the day to give up was with my morning coffee, but by sleeping a little later, I could avoid that hurdle. By the time I rolled out of bed it was too late to lounge with my bad habit.

It’s also a way to cut back on drinking or eating too much. I once discovered that going to bed earlier was a clever way to avoid my 10 p.m. glass of wine, and rewarding myself with an afternoon nap rather than a snack was an effective weight loss tool.

Sleep is a place to go when you ache from hurtful words, or when you are too tired to cry any more.

Of course, there may be better ways to deal with all of the above.

To accept a loved one’s death or quit smoking, we might join a bereavement or support group, or take a walk in a field of lilies or by the ocean barefoot. We might go to a yoga class, or meditate or get together with friends.

Sleep is not always the healthiest way to deal with sadness or loss.

Still, I find it to be one of the kindest methods (though friends and relatives may not think it’s very kind to them, and they are bound to become irritated and impatient if one spends too many hours, days or years sleeping). I know this because my husband slept away a good part of the summer one year after losing his job.

When we look up the benefits of sleep, we will find many.

Sleep can help us do better on a test in school or run faster in a marathon.

According to Harvard researchers, sleep positively impacts learning and memory and the National Sleep Foundation cites sleep as an important factor in athletic performance. 1, 2.

The Mayo Clinic asserts that sleep can boost our immune systems and aid in fending off a cold. 3.

Sleep can also make us appear more attractive. A study published in The BMJ, (formerly The British Medical Journal), confirms that “beauty sleep” is real. 4.

Sleep can help us from making mistakes and having accidents, and even combats obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleep deprivation, after all, is used to torture and brainwash. 5, 6.

But the deeper benefits of sleep are rarely discussed.

“Go to bed now,” my mother would say, “Maybe things will look brighter in the morning.” Often, they did.

Was it just because the sun came out? Or was it because of sleep? Was it because of the nurturing waves of dreams and the nourishing vacation from worry?

Even if sleep didn’t actually make the problem go away, it provided respite; a soft, warm, temporary place to say “good-bye” to everything and everyone—temporarily.

There are times in life when sleep seems unimportant, almost aggravating, when we don’t want it or think we even need it.

Why sleep when you’re falling in love? Why sleep when you’re on a beautiful island or hiking a mountaintop? Why snore when you’ve just given birth, and want to stare at your newborn 24/7?  (Not to worry, that will swiftly come to an end when your need for sleep becomes far greater than your desire to admire your progeny.)

Unless you suffer from insomnia, sleep is a compassionate friend; one who does not judge, criticize or make demands (other than requiring you to close your eyes).

It would be a shame to sleep through life (some people do, even when their eyes are open).

But without this amazing natural gift we would be doomed—in body and soul.

And if you can afford it, all it costs is time.

 

References:

1. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

2. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/sleep-athletic-performance-and-recovery

3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/FAQ-20057757

4. http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6614.full

5. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/dsSleep/

6. http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2013/13_0081.htm

7. http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/myths-and-facts-about-sleep/page/0%2C2/

 

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Photo: Laura Hammond/Flickr Creative Commons

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