When you think of it, it is quite amazing how much time we spend asleep.  At birth, and for some time thereafter, it is not uncommon to sleep eighteen or more hours a day – more than 75% (three fourths) of the day!  By old age, our time at deep rest comes closer to 25% (one fourth) of the day.  This is still a staggering amount of time.  Over a lifetime, one will spend approximately 33% (one third) of their lives in the state of sleep.  That is, during a 75-year lifetime, 25 years will be spent asleep and unconscious!  This is truly incredible.  Sleep is either a consummate waste of valuable time or it has a value that is rarely acknowledged.

Sleep is to the brain as food is to the stomach.  Sleep is an essential element to brain health, and, like food, even short periods of deprivation can have a dramatic impact on mental well being.  Complete sleep deprivation for a day or two can lead to emotional volatility, angry outbursts, confusion, and poor judgment -- including potentially life threatening poor judgments.  Sometimes, when sleep deprivation goes beyond three days, it can lead to complete mental disorganization and psychosis.  In contrast, a similar period of food deprivation would have far fewer deleterious effects.

Importantly, mild sleep deprivation, like losing two or three hours of sleep a day, when it continues for weeks and months can have equally powerful effects as complete sleep deprivation over shorter periods.  Chronic mild sleep deprivation, however, is more insidious and dangerous because its effects are less well known and less obvious.  Chronic mild sleep deprivation has the potential to erode relationships, undermine school or work performance, and, importantly, interfere with critical life decisions.  The avoidance of complete sleep deprivation and chronic mild sleep deprivation is an important LGD for preserving the minimum conditions of high functioning and emotional well being.  The price that will be exacted for underestimating the importance of sleep can be very high indeed.

Like food, sleep is largely a matter of ritual and habit, and it is a part of the daily cycle.  The sleep cycle, however, is also delicate and it can be disrupted easily.  The delicacy of the sleep cycle increases as you get older, and, accordingly, being attentive to preserving the sleep cycle through sleep rituals becomes quite important as we get older.  That being said, the establishment of your sleep cycle begins very early in life and can have significant consequences for achievement and life satisfaction.  For example, the cycle of sleep where you are an “early riser,” appears to confer certain life long advantages in the area of achievement.  This follows from the fact that many life activities, e.g., school, the opening of the stock market, traffic, etc., etc. are time linked.  It is also true that the cycle of sleep controls the cycle of daily energy.  There are individual differences in the need for rest, i.e., the number of hours of sleep required to achieve rest, and there are also differences in preferred cycle, i.e., bedtime.  Early sleep habits, however, are a strong determinant of preferred sleep cycle.   Most importantly, preferred sleep cycle can be modified early in life.  Choosing and implementing a productive sleep cycle may not be CLD, but it may be quite important.

Sleep, however, seems to consist for something more than mere rest.  About a quarter of the time we spend sleeping is spent dreaming.  Reality is a multi-act play.  Dreams are multiple one act plays.  Ah the paradox of dreams: The only time my mind is truly free, yet my body is in prison.  Ah the wisdom of sleep!  While it is well understood that dreaming is essential to mental health, much else about the subject matter remains hotly debated.  Certainly you could go a lifetime ignoring your dreams and still have a good and happy life.  Nevertheless, some attention to dreams and their potential meaning may heighten the enjoyment of life and may enrich your experience.  It takes little effort to reflect and think about dreams, and, as long as it does not become obsessive, there is little risk of harm.  Regardless of the true meaning of dreams, if there is any meaning at all, contemplation about dreams can lead to some creative thoughts about your life and your current struggles.  Accordingly, creating the environment for sufficient sleep, and for some free time to enjoy dreams, facilitates optimizing life enjoyment.


Advice on Sleep

1.       Pattern your life so that as an adult, between the ages of 21 and 40, you sleep between seven and nine hours a day.  Avoid sleeping more or less than this amount for any sustained period.

2.        Pattern your life so that as an adult, between the ages of 40 and 55, you sleep between six and eight hours a day.  Avoid sleeping more or less than this amount for any sustained period.

2.       Avoid sleep deprivation.  Avoid going with less than five hours of sleep for more than two days in a row.

3.       Males: Don’t sleep more than 9 hours a day.  Females: Don’t sleep more than 10 hours a day. (Exception: Days when you are compensating for a period of sleep deprivation.)

4.      When you are ill, sleep as much as you can.

5.       Sleep on a firm mattress.  Don’t try to save money on a cheap mattress.  Remember, you spend a third of your life in bed.

6.       Go to bed early and get an extra half hour’s worth of sleep before an especially challenging day, e.g., a final exam or a special presentation.

7.       Sleep in a room that gets some fresh air, e.g., open the window just a crack.

8.       When asleep, either wear no clothes, or loose fitting clothes.

9.       If you have trouble sleeping, do the following (try combinations of these):

(a) Get up and read or watch T.V. until you really get tired (or do some other work around the house). 
      (Don’t lie in bed awake.)
(b) Determine if you are worrying about something and see if you can get up and solve or plan to solve it.
(c) Eat something (especially try warm milk).
(d) Take a warm shower, or bath.
(e) Increase (or decrease) the room temperature.
(f) Stop drinking coffee, tea, cola, and alcohol within four hours of bedtime.

10.            Don’t ever take drugs to get to sleep unless it is an absolute emergency or unless you are suffering from a medically diagnosed depression.

11.             If you have dreams that you don’t like, plan to have a dream the next day and plan to have the dream change in a positive way.  Before going to bed the next night, think about your corrective dream and plan how you want it to go.  Treat your dreams as something you can partially control.

12.            Get in the habit of remembering your dreams and share their contents regularly with a friend or lover.  Regard your dreams as a symbolic commentary on your current life.  Don’t regard your dreams as predictive.

13.            Don’t smoke in bed.  (Under the health section, of course, it is advised that you don’t smoke under any condition.)

14.            Don’t sleep in the same room as your children or parents.

15.            Before going to sleep, each night as a ritual, try to solve and communicate about left over problems with your lover-mate.  Don’t go to bed angry.  Resolve problems before sleeping so that each morning you start fresh.  Begin this pattern early in your relationship.

16.            Don’t make your children go to bed when they are obviously not tired.

17.            If you have children between the ages of two and about ten, have a nighttime ritual where you tell them a story with a little lesson and they also tell you a make-up story.

18.            Ask your children about their dreams and teach them that they can change their dreams.  Talk about dreams at the breakfast table.

19.            If you awaken at night with a painful cramp in your calf (lower leg) then grab your foot and pull your foot so that your toes are pointing at your knee (as if you were going to stand on your heels).  If this doesn’t work, then get up and walk around.

20.            Create a ritual around going to bed.  Go to bed at about the same time each evening, and prior to entering bed, engage in ritual activities like brushing your teeth, checking lights and doors, etc.  Create a package of signals that tell your mind and body that sleep is coming.

21.            Structure you life, such that, you go to bed before 11:00 P.M.-- preferably by 10:00 P.M.  Wake up at approximately 6 A.M.

22.            If you have no trouble falling asleep, but chronically find your self waking up in the very early morning, before you have completed your sleep, then consider the possibilities that you are suffering from depression, or that you are worried about some unfinished business, or the ambient room temperature is too hot or cold.

23.            Keep a flashlight next to your bed in case of emergencies.

24.            Make your bed a special sanctuary for rest, sex, and comforting contact.  Avoid eating in bed, working in bed, using the internet or watching TV in bed.