Healing with Beauty Sleep

I’m embarrassed to tell people this. I sleep a lot. No, I’m not talking about making sure I get 7-8 hours, I’ve been sleeping more like 10+ hours a night. And yes, I know that my body is still healing. But every single morning I’m surprised by it. Every morning I say to myself, “Really?!”

It’s been one of the most interesting aspects of this phase of my recovery from cancer (the other is my hair!). I have asked my doctor about this multitude of sleep and he said to listen to my body and sleep as much as I need. But as a person who tends to measure my self-worth on how productive I’ve been, it’s been hard to not think of the time I’m sleeping as a waste. I know that sounds absurd given the major ordeal my body has been through. But as a Recovering Perfectionist and Type A personality, I have to continually remind myself that I’m not being lazy by sleeping for 10 hours a night. 

Because my doctor is right—sleep is incredibly important to the healing process. It is when the body does its repair work. As immunologist, Dr. Esther Sternberg writes in her book Healing Spaces, “A living being is constantly repairing itself against all of these different insults at a very molecular level, at a cellular level, at an emotional level. So disease happens when the repair process is not keeping up with the damage process.”  And Dr. Lissa Rankin writes in her book, Mind Over Medicine, that the body needs to be in the “relaxation state” to do this repair work. You can get into that state in meditation and you can get there by sleeping.

But we in our culture almost brag about how little sleep we can get and still be productive. It’s somehow impressive to be able to function with only a few hours of sleep. We’re so busy that we stay up late trying to get it all done, only to rise early the next morning to finish whatever was left stuck to our cheek as our head hit the pile on our desk.

Our weekends are spent running from activity to activity. It’s almost as if we’re a loser if we don’t have 25 things planned for our families to do each weekend. Even when we go on vacation, our schedules are so packed with events that we come home feeling stressed and unrested.

This kind of “burning the candle at both ends” also puts a strain on our adrenal system, not allowing the hormones to return to normal levels, compromising our immune system in the process. And it robs our bodies of the much needed down time required for the body to do its repair work.

When will we get to a point in our culture when it’s cool to say “I haven’t got much planned this weekend.”? I think people actually long to have weekends where there isn’t much planned. We yearn for that down time. Sure our jobs have gotten busier and more stressful but I suspect that we also can’t say no. No to over-scheduling our kids’ lives, no to requests of our time that we don’t really have the bandwidth for, or no to our own ideas of our self-worth if we are not busy busy busy.

As I said, I struggle with it myself. I want my kids to have rich, full lives. I want to create memories with them. I want to do my work, make a difference in the world and carpe the diem. It’s about balance. It’s about living your own life and not caring what other people think. And for me, it’s about taking life as it comes, being grateful for each day I’ve been given and having faith that it will all be okay.

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