The new year is now fully in effect and we are in the midst of the powerfully energetic month of Aquarius. Can you feel the electricity of this time? A new year not only energizes us, but it has us looking at our life in new and expanded ways. We become inspired to make positive changes, to experience more health in all areas, to actualize all of our resolutions and get busy doing all of it! The challenge of Aquarius is keeping our egos in check, keeping our focus on all things good, and not getting overly attached to outcomes.” One thing that helps to keep us on track is sleep.
You probably read that and thought, “what does sleep have to do with any of that?” I’ll be the first to tell you: A LOT.
I have a very intimate relationship with the importance of sleep. As a mother of four children, I have statistically lost nearly four years’ worth of snooze time. (New parents will lose an average of six months’ worth of sleep during the first two years of their child’s life.) This experience alone has been enough to teach me the incredible value of a widely taken-for-granted bodily function. Sleep is imperative to a healthy life and not just the health of our physical form.
From a spiritual standpoint, sleep is the closest we ever get to death outside of illness or accident, and it happens every single night. The Talmud explains that during sleep only 1/60th of our soul is present in our body. Our soul goes to the upper world to rejuvenate, and our body uses this time of deep rest to repair and renew. According to Kabbalah, the soul’s essential powers are, in fact, strengthened and more apparent while one is asleep because it is united with its Source above.
The official definition of sleep from Merriam Webster is “the natural periodic suspension of consciousness during which the powers of the body are restored.” Your body actually does a number of bizarre things while you’re fast asleep:
- You become paralyzed. Your brain temporarily suspends all motor functions partially so the body can focus on restoring but also for your safety. Without this feature, you would physically act out all of your dreams harming yourself and others.
- The digestive system takes a break, slowing down our metabolism and kidney functions. This what keeps us from having to use the restroom throughout the night but is also why it is so important not to eat too close to your bedtime. You’ll wake up bloated with more to digest, ultimately slowing the metabolism down in your waking life as well.
- Your breathing slows and your throat muscles narrow. This helps to regulate the slower pace of the body while sleeping but is also what causes snoring and sleep apnea.
- Speaking of regulating, it is during sleep that many of our hormones get to work repairing everything from our muscles and bones to our immune system. These hormones inhibit the stress hormone cortisol as well as our insulin production–which is why those of us getting less than 6 hours a night are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
These are just some of the basics. There is a slew of phenomena that occurs when we sleep that scientists still can’t fully explain such as night terrors, recurring dreams, sleepwalking, exploding head syndrome (phantom sounds like crashing, gunshots, or explosions that wake us up), and sleep paralysis. Sleep is a mysterious time, and yet without it, the health of our body, mind, and spirit suffers. This goes for every sentient being on Earth. Mammals may not sleep the way humans do, nor do they need as much sleep, but even the ones who sleep the absolute least still have natural functions put in place to restore their bodies.
Dolphins, for example, utilize two opposing brain functions at once. One half of the brain “puts to sleep” areas that are not being used while the other half stays focused on migrating, hunting, or mating. Giraffes have a tough time physically resting because of their body specs (hello elongated neck!), but they still will sleep standing up for 5-15 minutes at a time throughout the day. Other animals like deer and horses sleep cyclically throughout the day keeping their eyes open. Even fish go into a physical rest similar to sleep. They can’t close their eyes due to lack of eyelids but will find other ways like hiding out in coral or swimming at slower paces.
Every living thing comes with a system for restoration and repair. Yet humans are the only ones that fight against this natural, necessary impulse. A study most recently updated in December 2018 shows that 35% of Americans get less than the recommended 8 hours of sleep, and that 20% of us have been diagnosed with sleep disorders. A whopping 97% of teenagers are sleep deprived, and overall sleep deprivation costs the US $411 billion dollars annually. A human with dysfunctional sleep patterns equals a human with dysfunction waking life patterns as well. Lack of sleep is credited with everything from obesity, heart disease, depression, and decreased life expectancy.
I know for myself that the morning after a sleepless night, my voice is always hoarse. I’m not sick, I’m not in pain, yet my voice becomes scratchy and sometimes even disappears. After just one lousy night of sleep! While it may not signify the beginning of a cold, it does alert to me to the fact that my body is low on energy and without making adequate rest a priority, illness is sure to follow.
The list of things that take precedence over your sleep should be extremely short, especially right after the holidays at the beginning of a new year. Nothing is more important than the health of your body and spirit; without it, anything you’re making more important will suffer anyway. Add “Get More/Better Sleep” to your list of resolutions and watch how much more you are actually able to accomplish this year, and how much more you’re able to take part in appreciating and celebrating those accomplishments.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
This week, try heading to bed thirty minutes earlier than usual. Set an alarm if you have to and see if you can get yourself on a new rhythm. Your body and mind will thank you for it!