The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once wrote in his Fragments, “Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.” This musing may seem counterintuitive to a citizen of the 21st century, where constant movement, hustle, grind is the norm in an ever-faster moving society. What then, does this pre-socratic platitude have to teach us in a world where we are overstimulated, over-caffeinated, overworked and over-stressed?
Perhaps it is as simple as this: sleep is not only a respite from the daily grind, an oasis for the tired body and mind but a necessary, active undertaking for a productive waking life.
Indeed, sleep is a prerequisite for a healthy and prosperous human being. But for some, the simple act of falling and staying asleep is no easy task. However, it’s not just the act of sleeping that is important, it’s the quality sleep as well.
During this unprecedented and uncertain time living with the worry caused by Covid-19, that quality sleep can sometimes be an even tougher commodity to come by. The National Institute of Health found in two studies of college students during strict lockdown orders in March and April that the students actually slept a few minutes more on average, but the sleep quality declined significantly.
According to the Sleep Foundation, a number of factors are contributing to disruptions in sleep norms caused by Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on daily life. For some, there is the disruption of sleep schedules due to a lack of traditional time markers like dropping children off for school or clocking in at an office every morning. For others, compounding anxiety due to an uncertain economic or employment status is also a detrimental factor to a healthy sleep cycle. Isolation and depression caused by stay-at-home orders, coupled with excess time engrossed with screen-based activities like binge-watching Netflix or hours of Zoom meetings also contribute to a disruption in normal sleep schedules.
With newly imposed travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, more Americans are cancelling vacations plans than previous years. According to a study done by Wakefield Research in Princess Cruises’ ninth annual Relaxation Report, many employees traditionally use these vacation times to catch up on the rest they lose during their go-go-go work year.
These trying times make it doubly important for Americans to be more cognizant of how their bodies are reacting to less sleep and more fatigue and find ways to counteract these external factors.
Here are some helpful tools to achieve more and better sleep:
- Create a foundation of a nightly routine: Establishing a consistent schedule for bedtimes and waking times and avoiding abnormalities in waking and sleeping times can promote a healthy sleep schedule, according to leading health experts.
- Establishing an association between sleep and one’s bed is also helpful. Experts recommend only using your bed for sex and sleep.
- Light pollution can often be a hindrance to relaxation. Eliminate light triggers such as handheld devices, televisions and outside light during resting hours to minimize visual stimuli.
- Activity during the day will promote rest during the night. Daily exercise has numerous health benefits, including better sleep.
- A healthy diet is of utmost importance to a well-functioning body, particularly when it comes to sleep. Avoiding alcohol or highly caffeinated beverages and sweets toward the end of the day can eliminate artificial stimuli and promote natural fatigue that leads to a healthy night’s sleep.
- And of course, some people are simply wired differently and need more or less sleep on average. Some people will naturally struggle with quality sleep and may need to seek advice from their physician.
At the end of the day, figuratively and literally, as Heraclitus reminds us, our bodies and minds deserve a healthy night’s sleep. It is a human imperative. For a longer and more fruitful life, a less worried and anxious body and spirit and because we all have work to do to ‘help make something of the world.’