While recovering from surgery, I spent the better part of 10 days sleeping, meditating, learning to maneuver a wheelchair, and surrendering to being in the moment.

While each of these activities was rewarding, I would like to focus on the value of what can happen in your mind, body, and life once necessary sleep requirements have been met.

Surely we all know this from reading it in any number of magazines targeting health, beauty, and science. Having knowledge gleaned from reliable sources is valuable. Having personal experience is priceless. Catching up on sleep is a sensuous, mind-expanding, life-enhancing state.

According to www.sleep-deprivation.com, “Sleep deprivation is a common condition that afflicts 47 million American adults, or almost a quarter of the adult population. Symptoms can interfere with memory, energy levels, mental abilities, and emotional mood.”

They go on to state, “The trend in industrialized nations over the last hundred years suggests that people are increasingly sleep deprived. In 1910, the average person slept 9.0 hours a night. By 1975, the total had fallen to 7.5 hours. The 2002 Sleep in America poll, conducted by the NSF, indicates that the average American adult now only sleeps 6.9 hours a night, leading to fatigue, exhaustion and other symptoms. Shift workers suffer more than other people: many shift workers average only five hours a night.”

The site continues with a list of other side effects and symptoms that relate to not getting enough sleep. If I were leading a live class in this moment, I would ask if there is any one who feels they get enough sleep each night. My guess is that we would see no hands go up. While it is true we think we value having enough sleep, in truth we don't value it enough to make it a reality. We know we need more sleep, but we don’t have the time or energy to do the things necessary to get it. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

Sleep is essential. Our bodies need time to shut down. It is during this period of rest that it goes to work, healing sore and tense muscles, or recovering from the trauma of surgery. But it is not just our physical body that benefits from rest. Our minds need this time to flow freely, uncluttered by worry or to-do lists. It is no surprise that as the number of sleep-deprived adults in this country increases, so seemingly do the number of anti-anxiety and depression medications available, pain relievers, and (imagine this) sleep aides.

I certainly qualified as “sleep deprived,” prior to surgery, since getting less than eight hours of good sleep per night is considered sleep deprivation. I was at best getting six hours and it was easy to recognize the signs that I probably needed more: feeling harried, rushed, more stressed, and scattered. But like most people, I simply absorbed those feelings into my regular routine. Everyone is busy, right?

Well, you can’t argue with the body, and during recovery, my body took over. And though it is hard to say when I was “caught up” on sleep, I began to notice a shift even by the second or third day. I was thinking clearer and felt “space” to be creative and imaginative, allowing for intuitive problem-solving.

By one week, there were noticeable changes in thought patterns, mood, positive outlook, connections with self on all levels, and I imagine the opportunity for more rapid physical healing. While that is not a scientifically researched response, my personal healing that was occurring at that time was rapid and successful. The most I slept a day was nine hours, including naps, which certainly lends credence to the idea that sometimes the best medicine is a nap.

Naps are important. Like many adults, I viewed naps as a luxury—even a guilty pleasure. After all, I should be accomplishing things all day, not sleeping, right? Wrong. When we don’t get enough sleep during our allotted sleep time (night), we must make up for it, lest we suffer the consequences of sleep deprivation. When I did not make time for a nap, I experienced a feeling of being misaligned and disconnected from myself.

Now, on a regular basis, I aim for a minimum of 30 minutes during the afternoon. One hour is even better. It begins as a meditation—a peaceful mental state with openness to creative receptivity. I allow myself to drift into sleep from that state. I awaken clear, focused, positive, rested, patient, grounded, with enhanced creativity and intuition. Not bad for an hour of sleep.

While having surgery is certainly a means to forcing the body to rest, it’s a bit extreme if you have other options. My opportunity to reverse my sleep deprivation really started before my surgery, during a time when many of us in the northwest were without electricity. After an hour or so of reading by candle and flashlight, it was just easier to go to bed—and not get up until the sun appeared again. There’s a strategy—sleep whenever it is dark out!

You can’t just wait for the power to go out and you shouldn’t wait until illness or injury forces you to get some sleep. There are other ways to beat sleep deprivation; they just require some action on your part.

When I had no choice but to sleep following surgery, I had extraordinary experiences as a result of being able to catch up on the deep rest I had been deprived of. So extraordinary, in fact, that the best I can do to share them is to help you to experience the same.

I’ve come up with an “instruction guide” on how to get more sleep. It’s a simple list of tips that may sound like common sense, but as I mentioned above, understanding the value of sleep and actually doing something about getting more of it are two different things.
The Experience

• Resolve to place sleep at the top of your priorities for one week.
• Schedule it in as you would an important meeting.
• Find time for a nap at least once a day – more if possible.
• Go to bed earlier – how about 9pm instead of 11pm or midnight?
• Try, when possible to wake up without an alarm clock. Go to bed early enough that you will have 8-9 hours of sleep by the time you need to wake up.
• Make your plans known to your family, friends, and anyone else, if necessary, in order to get their cooperation. Perhaps they will join in.
• Turn off all phones and means of communication or interruption when it is time to sleep.
• Notice whether there are times in the day when you are naturally more tired. Try to schedule your naps within that natural rhythm.

For the best results, take notes on your experiences, dreams, perceptions, changes, and so forth. Recognize the way your ability to concentrate has improved, the way your body feels physically and the way your mood has changed.

One wonderful side effect of getting enough sleep was that I was able to remember my dreams more clearly. And they went from a “maintenance of the mind” style to instructive, productive, and useful for progressing smoothly and successfully in my life. I assume because there was more time for the mind to sort through the day, it also had more time to play and plan.

Trust me. Once you’ve experienced what catching up on sleep can do for you, you will care less about what happened on your favorite late-night program and more about what you’ve been able to accomplish, simply by giving your mind and body what it really needs: sleep.

For more information, please visit on the website: http://www.maryleelabay.com

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Mary Lee LaBay, Ph.D., serves the community through her innovative work as a psychologist and hypnotherapist, facilitating gentle, yet effective solutions to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual crisis and evolution. Named among the Top 100 Thought Leaders by Personal Excellence Magazine, she maintains a private practice in Bellevue, WA. She may be reached at 866.440.4242.