This week, I want to explore how sleep and fear are related. Their connection is direct and undeniable, as lack of the prior leads to an increase in the latter. Studies prove that sleeplessness or sleep deprivation negatively impacts your fearlessness and functioning.
Let's start by decoding your sleep myths. How much sleep do you think you need in order to function optimally? How much sleep do you really average a night? Are you someone who believes you can "make up" for the sleep you did not get during the week by sleeping more on the weekend? (FYI: You can't.) Or is needing seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night incongruent with your city-that-never-sleeps, type-A, get-it-done self-image? Do you rock your five hours a night like a badge of honor?
You often hear of successful people (such as JFK and Salvador Dali) who blazed through life, accomplishing great things on as few as four hours of sleep a night. But before you jump on the "no sleep equals mad productivity" bandwagon, remember that science proves we need good quality sleep for seven to eight hours every night to function at our best. Sleep deprivation is cited as a powerful contributor to some of the biggest disasters in the last 50 years, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Three Mile Island, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant explosion. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "drowsy driving" causes over 100,000 car crashes each year, resulting in about 1,550 deaths. So sleep deprivation and the resulting fatigue is not only bad for you, it can be dangerous to others as well.
In your attempt to be a fearless warrior, sleep should be on top of your to-do list. When rest levels are low, the first things that go up are anxiety and depression. As perceptions become clouded by fatigue, your fear mind -- or "Mafia mind," as I call it -- starts running the show of your life.
Other Mind-Body Games Sleeplessness Can Play:
- Impairs cognitive ability. You will find it difficult to pay attention, concentrate, learn new tasks, make reasonable decisions, and remember.
- Increases risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, and lowers immune function due to your body not being able to "repair" itself and relax.
- Lowers sex drive thanks to lack of energy, anxiety, depression, irritability, and lowered testosterone.
- Speeds up the aging process with dark eyes, fine lines, increases cortisol levels (which breaks down skin elasticity), and decreases levels of growth hormone (which helps with muscle mass and tone).
- Packs on the pounds by increasing ghrelin peptide levels, which stimulate hunger, and decreasing and leptin peptide levels, which tell your brain you are full and satisfied.  Being tired also causes you to reach for quick energy in the form of sugary foods.
Since the above list is enough to give you nightmares, here are some...
Suggestions So You Can Sleep Easy:
- One hour before you go to sleep, turn off or cover up any electronics in your bedroom. The light they emit has been shown to interfere with sleep.
- Try to avoid napping within eight hours of bedtime. If you are desperate, keep it to 20 minutes.
- For side-sleepers: Put your body in a "neutral" position by placing a pillow between your legs and using a good supportive pillow to keep your neck in alignment.
- Buy mattress and pillow covers and regularly wash linens to limit exposure to allergens.
- Only use your bed for sleep and sex. Avoid eating, doing paperwork, working on your laptop, and watching television in bed.
- Go to sleep and wake up at relatively the same time every day -- including weekends! -- to help set your body's circadian rhythm.
- Avoid caffeine after noon. Check labels. You'll be surprised that some items like pain relievers can contain caffeine.
- Exercise can help wear you out, but if you work out too close to bedtime, it has the potential to keep you up due in part to the adrenaline and feel-good hormone rush. Make sure to get your sweat session in three to four hours before bedtime.
- If you are hungry within two hours of hitting the sack, make sure to keep it light. Heavy meals can tax your digestive system, making falling asleep difficult.
- Despite its chill-out effect, alcohol can actually cause disruptive sleep patterns. Ditto for sleeping pills.
Try to create a bedtime ritual such as saying no to electronic usage at least one hour before bedtime (no matter what room you use them in), light reading (this is not the time for news and work-related items), dimming the lights and quieting any unnecessary noises around the house, drinking decaffeinated tea, and/or taking a hot bath or shower. Don't try to blow through last minute to-do items or engage in complicated decision-making. Instead, focus on quieting the mind-chatter of the day, allowing your body to wind down.
Can you challenge yourself to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night this week to see if your fear mind shifts to a more fearless mind? What do you notice in your mind, body, and attitude when you get ample sleep?
I would love to hear about your experience with sleeplessness and fearlessness. Please drop a comment here and share your wisdom or support others in our Becoming Fearless community.
I hope you have an amazingly restful week, and, as always, take care of you.
Love Love Love
Need some help in the sleep department? There's a meditation for that! Here's the Manifest Into Sleep track from my guided meditation CD "Meditation Transformation".
For more by Terri Cole, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.
 Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., et.al. "The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism." Medscape Neurology. 2005;7(1).