Like two-thirds of the population, I need sleep and have trouble getting it. The lack of sleep is such a problem in developed countries that the World Health Organization has deemed it an epidemic. And yet sleeplessness continues to be an ingrained and even celebrated part of our culture.
That is soon to change, however. We are about to start hearing even more about sleep over the next few years, and it’s critical because sleep affects almost all facets of human health. Get ready for a cultural shift that celebrates sleep. At least that’s what neuroscientist Matt Walker, Ph.D., is aiming for in his book “Why We Sleep” (Scribner, Reprint Edition, June 2019) who writes, “A balanced diet and exercise are of vital importance, yes. But we now see sleep as the pre-eminent force in this health trinity.”
For me, sleeplessness, sometimes merited as productivity, was normal. My mom worked as a nurse, somehow managing to make her three kids think she was a full-time mom by working odd hours. My dad, a biochemist, regularly worked 80 hours a week. Sleep was not something they valued. They couldn’t.
Other important habits of health I got in spades, namely nutrition and activity. They were way ahead of their time with small organic farming. My mom introduced me to yoga, and my dad keeps up his martial arts practice to this day. I was lucky to have incredible examples that helped me form great habits in nutrition and movement from early childhood.
However, a few years ago, I realized something major was missing. My persistent anxiety and hormonal symptoms continued even after years of experimenting, adjusting nutrition, getting acupuncture and trying numerous other recommended remedies. Then it dawned on me (pun intended): Sleep, in quality and quantity, was what was missing.
My husband is part of the lucky third of the population that sleeps well. I admit to unjustly judging him for his superb sleep. Secretly, I felt somewhat superior to him for my early hours. The joke’s on me, though. Turns out that despite my pretty stellar record of eating and exercising, he will most likely live longer and better.
Two years ago, I embarked on a more conscious journey toward good sleep. Like lots of good intentions, it began with a New Year’s resolution. When I told people, they thought I was ridiculous — I live in New York City, after all, the city that never sleeps. Like fitness and nutrition, sleep is a lifestyle, a habit, and there’s no foolproof formula. It’s highly individual: Genetics, environment, health and lifestyle all play a role.
Here are a few things I have tried over the years that work. Perhaps, they will inspire you to feel more empowered in your own quest for good sleep and great health.
In my on-going experiment with sleep and nutrition, there are three things that reliably help me.