Bad news. After a period of progress, my seizures have returned over the past week or two. In mid January, I wrote a Provision titled Sleep Matters. Today I want to revisit that Provision, with a few new reflections. Sleep matters even more than I thought. Taking regular breaks and getting a good night’s sleep are essential aspects of a healthy lifestyle. I have known that for a long time. But how do we make sleep a priority, without cutting corners and chipping away at the edges? I encourage you to think about that with me, both for yourself and for those you love. Sleep, you might say, makes all things new.
So the return of seizure activity, combined with intermittent memory dysfunctions, has reinforced for me the importance of what I wrote about last January: Sleep Matters. As I wrote then and as I am experiencing now, in this current dip in my healing process, sleep is not a nice-to-have; it’s a have-to-have and we do ourselves harm if we fail to sleep adequately or sufficiently in terms of both quantity and quality. The key, then, is to find a sleep pattern that works for us on a regular and routine basis. Everyone will probably have slightly different patterns, but some things will be similar for sleep to be effective.
The first and most important thing is simply to make sleep a priority. If we view sleep as somehow less-valuable than work, we are doing sleep a great disservice. It is an essential part of life and when we cut corners around sleep we do ourselves harm. I know! I have harmed my brain by working so long and hard that my brain has not had time to recover. Do that often enough and the brain can experience big problems, such as the kind of inflammation and flareups I have experienced since the end of last August.
The problem is that work feels so good. To accomplish something, to get things done, to make a contribution – it doesn’t get much better than that, at least in my book. Work, in that sense, is an important part of life for me and for most people. We live in a get-up-and-go world. Most of us enjoy making a positive difference in life. When those assignments and opportunities match our gifts and abilities, it’s hard to find anything better.
Good work gives us a sense of meaningfulness, satisfaction, and connection that I, for one, experience in no other context. I believe that all people need such work. As I wrote in January, and as I am reprinting now in order to give my brain a week off, it’s just not enough for me to subsist meagerly or selfishly through my days; unless I am making a contribution in the world, I am just not content.
That ethic may have come from my early days as a Boy Scout. “Always leave a campsite better than you found it!” was a mantra 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 leaving a place that way. Even if it was stowing just one piece of stray paper, to be disposed of properly later, knowing that one 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. So I now strive to take naps and more frequent breaks in my day. To that end, I am taking a breaking by reprinting my reflections from the end of January. If you didn’t catch my thoughts then, you can catch them now. If you did read them then, I would encourage you to read them again. In out go-go-go world we would all benefit from taking them to heart.
There was, of course, 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 learn over and over again 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.
Thanks for your last Provision, Patterns Matter. They have long been an important part of my life and I am glad you are finding them that way as well. Keep looking for them and finding the ones that work for you!
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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