Sleep Deprivation – Heroic or Absurd?

You might think that the holidays is an odd moment to be thinking about sleep deprivation. Yet, I would argue that it is an ideal time to reflect on our sleep – or lack thereof…

Some years ago, I heard Arianna Huffington famously state that the problem with our world is that it is led by chronically sleep-deprived politicians and CEOs. Not only that, but we have made of sleep deprivation a heroic act, an expectation, a sign of commitment and aptitude for leadership.

As someone who – until recently – has always relied on deep sleep as a trusted friend and cherished companion, I didn’t quite get it at first.

But she was right. And it’s actually far worse than that. Over a century ago, Americans slept 9 hours a night, compared to an average of 6.5 hours today. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Because it’s not just about how many hours you spend in bed, it’s really about the length, depth and quality of your sleep.

The determining factor is our circadian rhythm, our inner biological clock. Most people have heard of this in the context of jetlag, and the need to pop a few melatonin pills to “reset the clock”. Well, that’s part of it, but the circadian rhythm is linked to a host of metabolic hormones that have an impact way beyond the quality of our sleep.

In industrialized societies, 10-30 percent of people are estimated to suffer from insomnia. As for the rest of us, we may think that our sleep is adequate, but actually, given our exposure to artificial lighting and our growing device-addiction, we have created an environment that completely blunts our natural circadian rhythms. We are confusing our physiology into thinking it is always day-time.

I’ve been following a fascinating program, called The Energy Blueprint, which looks at the science related to overcoming fatigue and building super-human energy levels. Unsurprisingly, the first module deals with sleep.

There is ample evidence showing that the crux of a host of health issues lies with our inability to rest and regenerate, due to blunted circadian rhythms. And that, in turn, has severe consequences on our mood, our ability to process information, and more generally our mental and physical performance.

So, how can it be that people pride themselves on sleeping 4 to 5 hours a night, as role models for others to follow? How can it be that we implicitly expect and value chronic sleep deprivation in ourselves, our bosses and our employees, when that curtails our performance? When that numbs us to the impact and significance of our lives?

I believe we urgently need to wake up!

We need to shift our consciousness. At the risk of being repetitive, the way we collectively value sleep is indicative of the way we collectively value Nature’s need for rest and restoration. Think depletion of natural ecosystems from fisheries to top soil, forests, aquifers, etc. We treat our planet no differently than we treat ourselves. And there too, we leave no room for rest and restoration.

As Clare Dubois, founder of Treesisters, would say, we are always living on the out-breath, the masculine, the action paradigm – be it for ourselves, or what we project onto the external world. We have forgotten what it means to breathe in.

So what’s the solution?

On a physiological level, there are many pieces to the puzzle, including eliminating blue light (by wearing blue-blocker glasses and installing special apps on your devices) a couple of hours prior to bed-time, getting sunlight exposure first thing in the morning, and ensuring regularity of sleep timing, meal timing and exercise timing – all of which, and much more, are covered in depth in The Energy Blueprint program.

Beyond that, it’s high time we take a collective in-breath.

Time to welcome the silence. The Feminine.  Value the cyclical imperative for rest and restoration. And prepare ourselves for a restful and restorative night of sleep, out of which we can emerge full of clarity.


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