Have you ever noticed that when you intentionally prioritize any area of your life – your time, your money, your mental focus, your investment in people – that which is allocated last is what is least important and, therefore, gets the leftovers.

Let’s take your relationships, for example. Unless you prioritize time with the people most important to you then those interactions suffer; they get what’s left after all the other tasks vying for your attention are satisfied. The same is true with your money. If you do not place “charitable donations” on the top of your budget, then you will only give money when all your own needs and wants have been satisfied and there is a little change left over. We call these scraps.

I consider there to be 4 pillars of wellness: exercise, nutrition, sleep, and spiritual care. I believe that any (or all!) of these areas in which you are not flourishing is primarily because you have not given it its due priority.

Today, let’s talk about sleep. I will explain why this one-third of your life is so important, and in the next blog I will provide you with tactical steps for making vast improvements.

For years I was not intentional about budgeting a proper amount of sleep into my day. It got the least amount of attention, and I paid for that dearly. For years my health suffered because I did not recognize the importance of sleep. Can you relate? Those early college years of staying out late, eating all the pizza, cramming for tests living off caffeine and the excitement of being on your own.

When I trained to be a pediatrician and emergency physician in the 90s, surviving on only four hours or less of sleep for several days in a row was sign that you had the mental and physical fortitude to go through the rigors of residency. On the weekends I could stay out until midnight with friends and be at the hospital at 6 or 7 am ready to take care of patients. Honestly, I felt superior to people who whined that they were tired after they had enjoyed 7 hours of sleep at home in their own bed while I slept in 30–45-minute increments between calls in the hospital. I’m embarrassed to even share that with you, but now I see how arrogant and wrong that was. (I was the facepalm emoji before there was a facepalm emoji). 

This sleep-is-a-nuisance philosophy was so incorporated into my DNA that it did not end with residency. I continued to view sleep as an afterthought. It was the part of my day from which I could rob and steal so that I could accomplish more with the other hours. Or so I thought.

What was the price I paid? I saw a continual decline in not only my physical health, but also my mental health. I was fatigued physically and emotionally, and I lacked the self-awareness to see how my not caring for myself lead to professional burnout, relationship strain, and even an opiate addiction. When we are tired all the time, we lose our ability to self-regulate and self-soothe, and we often do not sense how desperately we need to take a timeout and recharge.

I believe my sleep was impacted by the adrenal fatigue I was suffering at the time, and I believe my adrenal fatigue developed, in part, due to my not prioritizing good sleep hygiene. Adrenal fatigue sets in when we are not able to keep up with the high-stress lifestyle we are living. When we have dysfunctional relationships, poor boundaries with people, jobs that we are not managing well, poor sleep and nutrition, and we are ingesting substances that are causing poor absorption of micronutrients and inflammation in our bodies our, adrenal glands eventually lose their ability to keep us afloat in our constant environment of fight or flight scenarios. If this sounds like you, we may need to talk more. May times your vague symptoms of not feeling well that finally drags you into your doctor’s office for lab work that results in a “clean bill of health” that just ends of frustrating you because you know you don’t feel well, is actually you suffering from adrenal fatigue. 

In his book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Matthew Walker, with his PhD in neurophysiology, said, “the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep.”

Sleep is the universal constant among animals. Sleep must be important because, despite being a time in which we are unable to hunt and gather, mate, or protect, every living animal is designed to sleep. In fact, it’s necessary for survival. (Have you met a cat?? They live forever for a reason. Ha!)

In his book, which I recommend if you really want to do a deep dive on how to improve this area of your life, Walker describes a medical condition in which people LOSE their ability to sleep. After a prolong course of progressive neurological dysfunction (like losing the ability to walk, talk, think) the condition is universally fatal. That’s definitely on my list of ways in which I do not want to die!

Whatever wellness issues you are facing, starting with a good foundation of quality sleep is always going to be an excellent place to begin your journey to better health. Sleep impacts our mood, our resilience, our immunity, our emotional self-regulation, and our energy level.

If you’re struggling with your ability to feel well-rested don’t worry. There are tactical steps that you can take to begin feeling rejuvenated each morning. Stay tuned to learn my top 5 steps to strengthening this pillar of wellness in your life.

%d bloggers like this: