“The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.” - E Joseph Cossman.
Ahhhhh. Sleep. From fruit flies, to cockroaches, to whales, to humans, we all do it. On planet earth, the activity of sleep is something that all living creatures share, and as Arianna Huffington says, is the great equalizer.
Sleep is when we restore ourselves, when our organ systems, down to the cells undergo all the most important restoration work. It’s when we heal up, reboot, and charge up for the next day. During sleep, our bodies release hormones for growth and repair as well as chemicals that boost up the immune system. In Chinese Medicine, to live a long, quality life, human beings need eight hours of good solid sleep, starting at 10 pm. To be up late, awakened during the night, disturbed by stressful or active dreaming; any or all of these are likened to having a leaky hole in your repair system. At some point, the leakage will catch up to you, resulting in a more compromised immune system, higher risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease. Lack of sleep results in lowered brain and memory function, impaired judgement, reaction time, and is often associated with emotional and mood disorders. Good quality sleep can be the difference between losing your sh@# and being able to seize the day - between feeling like you want to call it all quits and being a champion of your own destiny. And it’s not all in your head.
Getting that good shut-eye is more precious than gold.
During a typical cold and flu season, pulling a few all-nighters, working late, going out partying till the early morning, or staying up at night binge-watching Netflix is enough to make you susceptible to getting sick. If you start to feel under weather, the first thing NOT to do would be to go to work, go to the gym, or expend a whole bunch of your energy doing - just about anything. Instead, drop everything, drink some ginger tea, and get some seriously good shut eye. If you do this starting on Day One, it can give you the upper hand - the difference between winning the battle before a war breaks out, or having to suffer a long protracted struggle. It may mean the difference between being sick a few days to being sick for weeks.
Especially during this time of coronavirus - it is important for us to tune into our bodies and get the rest we need. Encourage your loved ones, especially those who are in a more higher risk category, to get good sleep. The better sleep we have, the more Qi we build to resist pathogens and live healthier. Wind down and turn in at 10 pm, skip watching the news and break away from social media into the evening.
In a similar vein, just simply resting our minds and taking time out to recuperate from worries, work, stress, intense exercise, and/or fast-paced life also plays a huge role in keeping our immune systems strong and living a fuller, better life. We always tell our workaholic patients who have trouble letting themselves give in to the need for sleep - out of all the things you do, sleeping is actually one of the most productive. In TCM terms, it’s about nurturing the Yin. Yin represents the resting state, the parasympathetic, the time for our nervous systems to wind down, take a chill pill, and let our inner resources consolidate. Being in the Yin is when we restore, replenish, and regenerate our fluids - literally, our body makes more Blood and we get more juicy from the brain on down to every joint and cell in our bodies. Finding little ways to do this on an ongoing basis is so much better than trying to cram it all into a two-week vacation or a one week spiritual retreat. By the time you get around to it, your body and brain will have been wired in such a way that it is now on hyperdrive, sympathetic, cortisol pumping mode even when you are trying to rest. So give yourself a little room for meditation, gentle yoga or qigong, taking a leisurely walk, taking a snooze break, drinking calming teas such as chamomile, rose, or lavender, lighting some candles, turning off devices on a more consistent basis. It’s all about taking time to unplug from the matrix and really - the need to achieve. Because even if you are doing yoga, meditating, or walking, if you are doing it with the mentality that you have to achieve a certain flexibility, walking pace, or even a achieving certain level of peace and calm and are low-key stressing about it, it’s not as yin-juicy as it could be. If you can, allow yourself some pure enjoyment and gratitude, and let yourself just be.
If there is anything we have learned from the coronavirus, it’s that the planet, including us, could really use a rest. On a global scale, it’s as if nature is mandating us to do it. With global warming increasing, species extinction continuing on a mass scale, and the earth’s resources being depleted by the never-satisfied appetites of a capitalist economy, our planet has been crying out to us for help. As it is already, we find ourselves as cheerleaders for sleep and rest in a society that has been on overdrive.
If you find yourself caught in the rat race, exhausted from being overworked, constantly on the go, drinking way too much coffee - going into rest mode, taking a break, staying at home, whatever it is that you do to rest can have a large impact, not just for yourself, but the entire planet.