Recently I’ve been having some irregular sleep patterns. I’ll go to bed and fall asleep promptly, but then wake up only a few hours later, with heart pumping and mind racing. When that happens, it’s hard to fall back into the REM cycle quickly, and I’ll inevitably toss and turn for as much as an hour, fretting all the while that I’m losing out on sleep that I need and will never make up.
But last night I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, slept through the night without any nocturnal wakefulness, and arose feeling refreshed. When I went down to make the morning coffee the birds were chirping, I unloaded the dishwasher with a happy feeling, and the coffee tasted richer and better than ever.
There’s no doubt that sleep is therapeutic on multiple fronts. The National Institutes of Health reports that, physically, the changes in breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure that occur during a good night’s sleep help to promote cardiovascular health, and while you sleep hormones are released that repair cells and control your body’s use of energy. And although the physical aspects of sleep are significant, the mental aspects are even more important. Getting your 7 or 8 hours of sound sleep enhances mood, alertness, intellectual functioning, and reflexes, while chronic sleep deprivation can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
Knowing all of this, why doesn’t the human brain always do what is necessary to allow everyone to get their share of shuteye? Unfortunately, things don’t don’t work that way, stresses and concerns at work and at home can interfere with the sleep cycle, and then the lack of sleep and the irritability it produces can have a compounding effect on those stresses and concerns.
That’s one of the reasons why getting a solid night of slumber time after a few night’s of anxious restlessness feels so good. You may not be making up for lost sleep, but it’s comforting to know that your mind and body are back to their normal cycles — at least, until the next round of stresses and concerns hit.