Now that you have had a week to implement some better sleep strategies, have you noticed a shift in your mood? Has getting more sleep lessened anxiety and fearful ruminating?
Perhaps you still believe that five hours a night is all you need to function at your best, and that sleep has no direct impact on your level of fear. That all those tips and tricks might help other people, but you don't have a problem. What I know about human nature is that we can understand something intellectually, yet that understanding still is not enough to alter our behavior -- even when we know it is in our best interest.
If you sleep less than eight hours a night and my last blog piqued your interest but did not convince you, let me share my own story about how sleep deprivation as a way of life impacted my health and fearlessness.
I was a talent agent before I became a psychotherapist. I took pride in the fact that I could run an agency and a triathlon on five to six hours of sleep a night. I was in total denial about how being sleep deprived was negatively impacting my physical and psychological health -- including my judgment. Although I knew that eight hours was recommended, I believed I was the exception to the rule.
After I was diagnosed with cancer, denial was no longer an option. Nothing will inspire a reality check of every facet of life faster than these two words: "It's malignant." I examined how I was living: the ridiculous work hours, the junk I used to fuel my body (caffeine with a side of nicotine, anyone?) and how little I was sleeping. What I surmised was that much of my "balls to the wall" way of living was actually fueled by fear and anxiety. The more I achieved, the more fear I felt that I would fall behind or lose what I had gained. The less I slept on a regular basis, the more anxiety and less perspective I had. Then, luckily for me, fate forced me to stop and take a long hard look at how I was living and how much of my actions were driven by fear.
I focused my attention on getting and staying well, which required a conscious decision to implement many of the ideas from last week's post.
I am not saying that living in a sleep-deprived state gave me cancer, but it definitely impaired my judgment and fueled my fear mind. I can conclusively say that as I transformed my health, changed careers and added meditation and yoga to my regular routine, my fear-filled need to be in perpetual forward motion was replaced by a much happier, less-constricted experience. I strive to maintain a balance, which includes sleeping at least seven hours a night. When I think back to that decade of my life, I honestly have no idea how I did it and am so grateful I woke up to where I am now.
I have collected some interesting scientific studies and stories that I hope will move you from contemplation to action when it comes to getting good sleep.
According to a study published in Sleep Medicine, sleep deprivation is associated with lowered self-regard, assertiveness, self-actualization and positive thinking -- all of which, of course, are directly fear-related.
Back to my agent days. In what I thought was my successful attempt at keeping a good thing going, my judgment lowered. The less I slept, the less I believed I needed to sleep. Caffeine and nicotine got me through the day just fine, so I figured I must be okay. I acted impulsively, overreacted to situations and expected everyone around me to read my mind and to have the same lifestyle as me. I blew through a decade of my life; it's all a blur to me now. I never slowed down enough to rationally think about what I was doing, nor the long-term consequences.
In this great post from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, medical director of Sleep Health Centers and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, states that "poor or inadequate sleep can cause irritability and stress," and that "chronic insomnia may increase the risk of developing a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression."
And here's one more fact for you: A study of 10,000 adults in Norway -- land of the sleep-disrupting "midnight sun" -- found that people with insomnia were 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder (a type of anxiety disorder).
Stress and anxiety? Sounds like fear to me.
Again, let's travel back. I was never an anxious person. But the nonstop motion and lack of sleep shot my anxiety levels up. Anxiety and fear feed off each other. They exist because of each other -- they are each other's host and parasite. The more anxiety you feel, the more fear is dominating your life. Anxiety presents itself because we are afraid of repeating old patterns (ruminating about the past) or of what could happen (projecting fearfully into the future). When we live in the past or the future, we lose the ability to be fully present in the here and now. Time flies when you are nowhere to be found.
I was so afraid of losing my success that I went into constant forward motion. Based on my past experiences of never feeling like I was enough (my fear script), I set out to prove the universe and my father wrong. It didn't matter who or what got destroyed in the process, as long as I kept up the appearance of having it all together and being a successful businesswoman. Before I knew it, the better part of a decade was gone.
Psychological disorders and unresolved feelings are just as serious as physical diseases. If you find it increasingly difficult to sleep even though you have tried some of the tips offered last week, please consider seeking professional help to talk out any underlying issues.
You don't need to get a scary diagnosis to decide to take better care of yourself. I hope my story will inspire you to gain clarity about your sleep patterns. If you are sleep deprived, it just might be getting in the way of you actually becoming fearless.
If you have a comment or question or need (or have) some advice, offer it up here! Everyone deserves to live fearlessly, and your question or tip may just help someone else in this Becoming Fearless community.
Let's start this weekend right with rest and self-care.
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."
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