As I continue to recover from the seizure disorder that developed on August 30, 2012, I have become aware of how important sleep is to the recovery process. Brains are not meant to go-go-go all the time. Are you addicted to stress? Do you have a hard time setting things down and letting things go? If so, then welcome to the club! In my case, however, the club almost became a fatal association as my brain tried to keep up but fell ever-further behind. Intrigued? Read on to find out my thoughts.
Work is an important part of life for most people. We get up and go with all manner of assignments and opportunities to make a difference in the world. When we enjoy those assignments and opportunities, it’s hard to find anything better. Work gives us a sense of meaningfulness, satisfaction, and connection that I, for one, experience in no other context. It’s just not enough to subsist meagerly or selfishly through my days; unless I am making a contribution in the world, I am just not content.
That may have come from my early days as a Boy Scout. Always leave a campsite better than you found it was drilled into me from my days as a Tenderfoot Scout. When I rose to through the ranks, all the way to Eagle and Order of the Arrow, I was the one doing the drilling. There was a sense not only of duty but also of joy to abiding by that mantra. Even if it was stowing just one piece of stray paper, to be disposed of properly later, knowing that you had made a contribution in the world was part and parcel of the Boy Scout code. We always sought to make a positive difference in the world.
I still believe in and live by code, metaphorically if not literally, but I think that was part of what got me in trouble • big trouble • at the end of August. I was trying to clean up so many “campsites” both for myself and for others that I became overwhelmed by the work and had a meltdown of nearly fatal proportions. Sure, there was a physiological mechanism of action. The doctors know that my super-strong immune system, in trying to protect me, turned around and started to attack me, but they don’t know exactly why and they don’t even know exactly what proteins were involved in the whole ordeal. That, in my estimation, is where stress comes into the equation.
Have you ever seen the skits of jugglers who start out doing just fine with a few balls or bowling pins, but as they are thrown more and more balls or pins they eventually drop them all? That’s true for every juggler, no matter his or her capacity. Eventually, everyone reaches a limit, a point of no return, a moment of trying to keep one too many balls or pins in the air. That’s when they all come crashing down. And for me, that moment was August 30, 2012. Through a mix of physiological and psychological factors I had a melt down of near-fatal proportions. And I’m lucky as well as thankful to be alive today.
One thing I’m learning is the importance of sleep: a time to turn off our brains as well as our muscles for rest, relaxation, and recovery. Similar to my own seizure events, there are aspects of sleep that are not fully understood today, even after centuries and even millennia of research. One thing is certain, however: sleep is absolutely essential to the health and well being of all animals, including human beings. Without the down time of sleep, we just can’t keep all those balls in the air • and eventually they come crashing down, one way or another.
My way was pretty dramatic, but then I always have been prone to do things in a big way. Why make a little splash when you can go for broke! That mantra has served me well for most of my life, but I am coming to appreciate the other side of the coin. Without the rest, relaxation, and recovery of sleep, we are all headed for big-time trouble.
To give sleep its due in our schedules, we need to start by recognizing and owning its importance. Too many people think of sleep as expendable. “Just one more thing!” is an all-too-often heard refrain. So a reasonable bed time becomes later and later until it eventually becomes an unreasonable bed time relative to when we have to get going the next day. And naps? Never! Who has time for naps? We all have way too much to do and work schedules do not usually include break periods with bunks for naps. We are expected to work through the day with no significant time for sleep.
I remember how surprised and impressed I was, decades ago, when a professional office worker in a large downtown office building pulled out and showed me his nap mat. It was just like kindergarten, all over again. He had a mat in his office that he kept rolled up under his desk and that he pulled out every afternoon, after lunch, for a 15-20 minute siesta. He would close his eyes, set an alarm, and break off from the pressures of the day. Then and only then, in his estimation, could he roll the mat up and get back to work in a productive mode. Without his nap, he did not get through the day with the energy and vitality that his job required.
That same awareness is becoming clear to me as my brain heals from the recent trauma of seizures and overwhelm. Although the doctors have prescribed plenty of helpful medications, they alone cannot do the job. Without sleep, my brain will not get back to the vitality I once knew and loved in the world. So I am working with my wife to carve out those times for sleep, both going to bed earlier and taking an afternoon nap. We are not always successful, but our recent scare has us much more successful than every before.
My own sense is that this awareness of the importance of sleep will continue for the rest of our lives. Neither one of us will ever forget the ordeal of 2012-2013, with she remembering it even more clearly and terrifyingly than me. I was in a coma for parts of it, and groggy through most of it, such that it much of it lies in a vague and terrible cloud. But she was wide awake, taking time off work and seeing me through the worst days of my life. Those terrible days became some of the worst days of her life as well, as we struggled mightily to hold onto the wonderful life we have cherished and nurtured for so long.
Researchers have determined that human beings need at least six hours of sleep hours of sleep before the lowest body temperature is reached. That’s what’s called our circadian rhythm and it has a lot to do with hormones, particularly melatonin, and other biological markers. The older we get the less sleep we need, but adults, including the elderly, need at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night. We should plan our nightly pattern of going to bed around that recommendation. Cut corners and we pay the price.
One way to determine whether or not you are getting enough sleep, at the right times, is simply to pay attention to day-time drowsiness and jitteriness. If you have either or both symptoms, then you are probably not getting enough sleep at the right times of day and night. And you may be headed for trouble. We can only burn the candle at both ends for so long before we risk a meltdown of cataclysmic proportions such as I had on August 30. And that’s no good for anyone.
I am paying attention to my sleep requirements more and more as time goes on through my recovery process. I hope you will too, long before you get to the point of burnout. It’s just not worth the risk
Coaching Inquiries: What are your sleep patterns? How much sleep do you get a night? Do you feel drowsy or jittery during the day? Are the frequent or rare occurrences? How could you make time for sufficient sleep before you and those you love suffer great pain? Who could support you on the way?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I was glad to read this today. Have been having a bout of discouragement myself lately. It is so good to hear from a survivor, who was much deeper. It says there is hope for the perceptive. If one can simply hang on for what is around the curve. Welcome back.
I’m so delighted to learn about your progress in recovery and healing, and to read how much you’ve gained from the experience. I feel relieved and grateful.
The very first stanza of your poem, Dawn is Breaking, resonates deeply with me and makes me think of how I start every morning appreciating the sunrise, the weather, the moment when I find myself and lose myself all in the same moment.
I know that the world is calling me to give more love and help more people, the challenge remains in figuring out my “how’s”. The thought of easing my mind so deeply perplexed and releasing new energy from that which was vexed sounds SOOO good!!! I wonder how I can allow that to happen?
Pretty good song lyrics! The whole thing moves me….can’t wait to hear it to music!
It is so wonderful to have you back.
Bob, you never cease to amaze me. When one uses the cliche “a man of many talents,” it certainly transfers from clich• to reality with you! I love your poem and your testimony of hope. It reminded me of Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord…”plans to to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” You continue to inspire all of us and make us better coaches!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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