Getting Enough Sleep and Rest


I have a lot problems getting both quality sleep and consistent sleep. This results in making the most of whatever sleep and rest can be found.

How much sleep is enough? Will getting more rest cover missed sleep? Is the weekend good for catching up? Will medication help me catch up? Will energy drinks help me push through?

I spend a lot of time thinking about these questions and many more.

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* Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television. Please consult a doctor before taking any actions affecting your health.

What do we know about sleep and rest?

Our knowledge of how sleep and rest impact the body and brain are constantly improving but one thing is consistent. Our body needs both sleep and rest to stay healthy.

Most of us know sleep when we see it but there are many ways to define rest. The details are different but they boil down to periods of reduced activity for the body and brain.

My definition of rest is lying down with eyes closed without tossing and turning. Essentially lying in a sleep position with movements equivalent to sleeping movements. Any activity, either physical or mental, reduces the amount of rest achieved during that time.

Back in the early 90’s I wrote a psychology paper based on sleep research. The details are lost to me now but the study basically equated 1 hour of rest to 1/2 hour of sleep. It also noted that rest cannot be used as a replacement for sleep, only as an enhancement to sleep. I’m pretty sure this is where my definition of rest started developing.

How is rest different than sleep?

Getting rest will make us feel more refreshed and alert during the day. It gives our muscles a chance to relax and feel energized. It’s a must to get properly rested through the day.

Sleep takes it to a whole different level. Our body enters a state where many physical processes slow down, brain activity goes down, cells are repaired and hormones are regulated. Most of our healthy recovery tends to happen during prolonged periods of sleep.

While rest is necessary and beneficial true sleep is the only way for the body to maintain good health in the long run.

How can lack of sleep affect us?

Lack of sleep can cause various issues like mood swings, depression and weight gain. These will affect our day to day activities and relationships in fairly short order.

Minor illness like colds and headaches will be more severe and linger longer than they should. More serious illness will have a better chance of progressing faster than it should because our body isn’t able to regenerate and heal itself the way it’s supposed to.

Beyond that, going through every day without energy results in a lack of drive to accomplish anything. It’s tough to be motivated when you’re always thinking about sitting down and closing your eyes.

How do I handle my lack of sleep?

Pacing myself and taking regular breaks during the day is a must. Doing important and creative tasks early in the day also helps. Later in the day distractions take over too easily and productivity goes down fast.

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Getting rest midday is important but extending rest into a nap will make sleep even harder to find at night.

Following an evening pattern signals my body that sleep is coming. The most important thing is going to bed around the same time every night. Even weekends. Changing the pattern for two nights will only make it harder to sleep the next few nights. Consistency is key.

Reading a book as soon as my head hits the pillow helps my eyes get heavy, even if it’s only a few pages. That’s when the light goes out and the ambient sounds come to life. A small pillow speaker allows me to hear sounds through the pillow without disturbing anyone else.

If my brain is a little too rambunctious for white noise an old movie is good for ambient sounds. This gives my brain a distraction but doesn’t draw me in like a new story. Don’t watch the movie though, only listen.

Some nights none of it matters and sleep refuses to visit. It’s important not to become restless because that increases the chances of a sleepless night.

In addition to all that, there’s no clock in the room. Not knowing the time makes it easier to ignore the time and keep my brain in neutral. Imagining it’s almost time to wake up makes it more likely to drift back to sleep.

Will sleep medication be helpful?

There is a time and place for sleep medicine but whether it’s good or bad is unclear to me. Relying on medication can easily become addictive in my experience.

Over the counter medicine seems to help but it takes a couple nights to be effective. Then the sleepless nights tend to return when stopping it. Sometimes it’s worse because of anxiety about whether or not sleep will return without it.

Alcohol can replace medication as a way to feel sleepy but an effective dose is usually high. It may help find sleep faster but it limits the amount of deep sleep. Addiction is definitely a problem.

Prescribed sleep medication absolutely puts me out for the night but I rarely touch it. My doctor warned that it can become addictive even with the small dose he prescribed.

Reliance on any of that isn’t a road I want to travel down.

Will energy drinks perk me up?

In the short term energy drinks will provide a quick burst of productivity but it comes with a price. A number of years ago I was stuck in a downward cycle of energy drinks every day and sleep medication every night. It was a bad scene that’s not sustainable. Stay away.

Even coffee has an adverse effect on me these days. Which is horrible because I love a good dark roast. A morning cup is usually okay but an afternoon cup will ruin my sleep every time. It’s a balancing act though because morning cups will also ruin my sleep after three or four mornings in a row.

In the end I enjoy sitting down with a good hot beverage so tea and decaf coffee have become my drinks of choice.

What’s the bottom line?

I’m not sure what the answer to finding good sleep is anymore.

I need to accept that sleep will be hard to find, stay relaxed and make the best of it. Anxiety makes sleep more difficult and it becomes a downward cycle.

I need to focus on how my body feels and avoid pushing too hard or too long. I’ll quickly become sick without a good combination of sleep and rest.

Hopefully awareness will help me get the right amount of sleep in the long run.

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Do you have any tips for finding better sleep? Do you have any ideas for getting proper rest? Leave a comment below.

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