The Importance of Sleep!

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By Anita Manley

I have always needed a lot of sleep — more than my peers, it always seemed. When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness back in 1997 (at the age of 32), and was prescribed medication to take every day for the rest of my life, I asked my psychiatrist if I could drink alcohol while taking this medication. He said I could, as long as the alcohol did not interfere with my sleep. Then I asked, how much sleep should I get every night. His response was simply, “Enough sleep”. What does that mean? He said, “whatever is enough for you.”

Since that time, I have learned that enough sleep for me changes throughout the month. But I, for sure, need 9 hours minimum a night, and occasionally, more like 10 -13 hours. I know that the medication I take makes me sleep longer hours, but it is necessary to keep me well. When I do not take my medication, I can get by with 8 hours a night regularly, but then I am mentally unwell. Without medication, I experience frequent and persistent delusions.

Last week, I did not get what my psychiatrist would call enough sleep. I had a fun weekend listening to live music, however, I was out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, getting only between 6.5 – 7.5 hours of sleep each night. Then on Tuesday night, I only slept 4.5 hours. I had commitments later in the week, so I couldn’t even sleep in to make up for the lost hours. I found that I responded to events throughout the week much more emotionally than I would have if I had enough sleep. My emotional reactions were exaggerated. After one incident last week, my husband, whom I have been with for over 4 years, said he had never seen me so angry before. Also, I was doing more emotional eating than usual, and had no energy to do regular tasks like preparing healthy meals or cleaning up dishes. Nor was I going to the gym. Everything was done quickly, and for convenience — whatever didn’t take too much time. Then on Thursday, I felt the need to leave my volunteer job early, as I had become completely unraveled, feeling unwell.

Finally on Friday night, I was able to catch up on lost sleep. I slept for 13 hours,and that was after a 5 hour nap in the afternoon. Then I slept some more on Saturday night. I am now back to my usual self, ready to continue my regular routine. But did I ever pay a hefty price for not taking better care of myself last week! Making sleep a priority for me is a big part of my self-care. I think the last time I had felt that much sleep deprivation was when I had been living in my car during the winter, back in 2009. Let’s hope I have learned that lesson now, and plan my social activities accordingly. Sometimes it is difficult since my husband is a night owl; so I always have to remind myself that I cannot keep up with his late hours. A learning opportunity, for sure.

How much sleep is enough for you? Only you can evaluate the number of hours. Are you getting it?

Getting enough sleep is paramount to my self-care routine.