September is self-care awareness month and in honor of that Brently and I wanted to feature the different ways that we implement self-care in our lives. Just as we advocate wellness in our physical and spiritual health, we strongly believe in being intentional about our mental health. We can only run on the dregs for so long before we wind up an empty vessel with nothing left to pour into another’s cup. That’s why for my first self-care post I want to talk about the importance of sleep.
As you can tell from the montage of throwback photos below, I have been a fierce advocate of naps since day one (hint: I’m the cute dark-haired one!). In fact, rest has always been something that my entire family takes seriously. We work hard, we play hard, and we sleep hard. I can remember lazy Sunday naps, Thanksgiving turkey induced comas, and up until I started after school sports I took a nap almost everyday after school.
The truth is, I always operated on an early to bed, early to rise philosophy and that worked for me. But what happens when sleep goes from being a necessity to becoming a luxury? What happens when the list of things that need to get done in a day can’t be accomplished by the time your head hits the pillow? That’s precisely what happened to me.
Around the time I started to take college courses in high school I found myself woefully unprepared for escalation of responsibilities. From study groups to sports practices to volunteer activities, I never seemed to have enough time to finish everything I set out to do. My bedtime went from 9:00 p.m. to midnight. And I know many of my friends who experienced the same phenomenon.
By the time I hit college my sleeping habits were practically nonexistent. Like an inverse graph, as my stress levels rose, the number of hours I slept decreased. And then one day, having starved my body of the sleep it needed for so long I suddenly found that I couldn’t sleep.
The role of sleep in our overall well being really can’t be stressed enough. Although the recommended number of hours is 7, most adults don’t actually get that much sleep. Part of that is a result of living in a restless society that values quantity of production over quality of production. Our ability to be productive is often equated with our personal or professional value. As parents and even teachers there always seems to be one more thing to do. But the physical and mental effects of sleep deprivation aren’t something we should ignore.
But beyond the social pressures that keep us up at night, I’ve realized that part of my problem comes from my priorities. For a long time, sleep just wasn’t high on my list of priorities. And it really should be because we don’t do our best work as writers, educators, parents or employees when we aren’t physically and mentally rested. God knows this and I like to think that is part of why he commanded us to set aside an entire day for resting. Because He wants what’s best for us spiritually and physically.
Today, sleep is a high priority for me. When it comes down to checking one more thing off my to-do list or getting an extra hour of sleep, I always choose sleep. Sometimes that means saying no to things I really want to do, like hanging out with friends or catching up on the latest season of The Great British Baking Show.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle with insomnia because I most definitely do. (In fact, sometimes I wonder if I’ll live with insomnia for the rest of my life). There are many nights I lay awake, sandy-eyed and foggy-brained, worrying about things that need to get done.
But I’ve found a healthy routine that helps me cope. My Young Living lavender and sleepyize essential oils help calm my mind while yoga relaxes the tension in my muscles. I’ve learned to nap on the days when I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep the night before. And over the past year I’ve seen a lot of improvement, not just in how many hours of sleep I get, but in my ability to handle the complications life throws at me. And it all starts with prioritizing your own health.