Although not all the mechanisms by which sleep works its restorative magic on us are fully understood, there seems to be ample evidence that getting adequate restful sleep is important for repairing and rejuvenating our bodies. Lack of sleep negatively impacts our mood and our brain's plasticity; we lose ability to make sound decisions and to consolidate memory.
I'm a textbook example of the effects of sleep deprivation. Over the last few years, the last six months especially, my sleep patterns have been radically compromised. Invariably after only two to four hours of sleep, I would wake up--and then spend hours wide awake, unable to fall back asleep. Sometimes my body was riddled with generalized anxiety; other times my mind was obsessively creating or reviewing to-do lists related to my job. During the day, I could tell my mind no longer worked "right." I did not resort to medications to fix this problem; I just coped as best I could. (My thought was that if I needed to take medication in order to get a break from my job through sleep, shouldn't I ditch the job first?)
I hoped that by quitting my job I would find a way back to getting restful, restorative sleep. I wasn't sure how to help this happen, so I thought I would start by observing any changes in my sleep patterns. I did give myself a few parameters to start with: 1) No computer or smart phone allowed in the bedroom, and 2) To the extent possible, go to bed and get up at roughly the same times each day (and no naps midday)--to make sleep a regular habit. (I figured that, once I was sleeping reliably, I could then indulge in naps.)
Day 5 post-job: I have now had four nights in a row of sound, uninterrupted sleep. I feel great! Will it really be this simple? Is this really all I had to do to find my way back to sleeping well? (Not to suggest that leaving my job was a small thing.) Since just about nothing in my life works quite this simply, I anticipate there may be some twists and turns to come. For now, though, here's to sleep! It's a beautiful thing.