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Sleep is something that many of us don’t get enough of, but not something that we might immediately equate with happiness or positivity. Why not, I wonder? New parents know how enormously lack of sleep affects a person’s well-being, as do insomniacs, people with illnesses or conditions that disrupt their sleep, and those tireless folks working the so-called graveyard shift. Sleep is obviously connected to our quality of life, but for most of us, it’s a luxury that we have to sneak in more of when we can. I wonder how much more sleep, and better sleep, could improve our moods?
Sleep and The Animal Kingdom
Animals (besides us humans, that is) seem to be better at sleeping than we do – think of a dog or cat curled up in a patch of sunlight on the rug. In fact, sleep plays a crucial role in their lives, in many different ways than our own. Hibernating bears comes to mind, probably because curling up and snoozing through the winter sounds pretty good to me. (An interesting fact I recently learned – bears are not true hibernators; they do slow down their metabolic rates and can go without eating and drinking but are easily roused if danger is near. Sleeping soundly enough to miss out on the cold but not too soundly to escape danger? Again, sign me up!)
Animals in inhospitable places hibernate in summer – called estivation – to escape scorching heat and drought. Apparently, many animals nap as well. It comes as no surprise to hear that large predators do (picture a lion stretched out in the sun) but even prey animals like rabbits take many short, quick naps throughout the day. What are these animals on to that we aren’t? I don’t know about you, but I can draw a pretty strong comparison between my own happiness levels and napping in the sunshine.
The Importance of Sleep: Positive Sleep Cycles
Many of us people grab a cup (or two, or three) of coffee or tea in the morning to wake up for the day, but by the time the afternoon rolls around we find ourselves tired and often short-tempered, needing another pick-me-up. While I love the taste of both a good cup of coffee and tea, I wonder if a short nap would do more for our minds and bodies than another cup of caffeine.
Unfortunately, most of us live in cultures that value activity over rest. If “time is money”, then time spent sleeping seems, on the surface, to be time wasted. How lovely it would be if we all broke in the middle of the day for a siesta, as some countries still do. A meal with family and friends and then a brief but satisfying nap, to perk us up for the remainder of the day.
When we’ve had a good night’s sleep, we are generally more cheerful, more cognizant and alert. Less tired and grouchy. Happier. How can we incorporate more sleep into our lives, giving our brains and bodies a break, a longer period to rest and dream, so that we are more alert, more content during our waking hours?
We Are All Different
Every person has different schedules, different lifestyles, different options. Turning off the TV (and phone, and computer…) long before bed can help rest eyes and minds. Simply deciding to make sleep a priority, something many of us emphatically don’t do, can help us adapt to the idea that sleep is more of a necessity than a luxury. Children literally do their growing in their sleep – their growth hormones are released more intensely at night. And most parents know what happens when their children skip their naps! It might be nearly impossible for us grown-ups to squeeze in a 10-15 minute nap during the day, but we could let that rug go un-vacuumed or that email unchecked and tuck into bed 20 minutes earlier.
Not as cozy as bears cuddling up for the winter, but more sleep does allow us more time for dreaming, and a well-rested person usually has an easier wake-up, which makes for a happier day. There is also evidence that being positive throughout the day improves the quality of sleep. So, more sleep leads to a more positive person, and those levels of positive emotion lead to improved sleep. Now that’s the kind of cycle that leads to sweet dreams!