Your Monthly Check-Up: Meditation, Down Time and the Power of a Good Night’s Sleep

Part III: Sleep

(Click here for Part I: Relaxation and here for Part II: Meditation)

So far we’ve covered relaxation and deep relaxation in the form of meditation. Now let’s talk about the ultimate in relaxation – sleep. Everyone needs it and most aren’t getting enough of it – to the detriment of every area of our lives. You’ll want to stay awake for this.

In “The Healing Power of Sleep,” Pamela Weintraub, Executive Editor of Discover magazine and author of Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic, uncovers just how sleep deprived we are as a nation, the detriment sleep-deprivation does to our bodies and minds and how we can turn this nocturnal habit around.

“People devalue sleep and are completely unaware of what happens to them when they have a deficit,” says James Maas, PhD, a recently retired Cornell scientist and one of the world’s foremost sleep researchers, according to Weintraub’s article. “As a society we are so habituated to low levels of sleep that most of us don’t know what it feels like to be fully alert and awake.”

University of Chicago sleep researcher David Gozal, MD, adds that we treat sleep like a “tradable commodity,” sacrificing it for everything from work responsibilities to entertainment or other lifestyle choices. We create this deficit because it can take upwards of months or years for symptoms of a sleep deprivation-related disease to surface, according to Gozal.

How many of you have used the phrase, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead?” I know I have.

According to Weintraub’s article, sleep deprivation, even by as little as one hour a night, can wreak massive havoc in the body and mind. Most people are aware by now that lack of sleep creates increased food cravings, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and disrupted metabolism, all of which can lead to weight gain. However, not getting enough Zs can perpetuate a plethora of other lesser-known symptoms, such as hair loss, hearing loss, skin problems, insulin resistance, vision problems, sexual functioning and even cancer.

In her article, Weintraub recounts the story of Jason Karp, a 36-year-old hedge-fund manager and restaurateur who had reached a dangerous level of sleep deprivation before he sought help. An ambitious learner, Karp taught himself to speed-read and would spend long hours reading as opposed to getting adequate sleep – sometimes sleeping just two or three hours a night.

Karp began seeing double and was diagnosed with keratoconus, a disease that causes the cornea to progressively degenerate, sometimes necessitating a transplant. Then, he began experiencing prostate pain. His hair fell out in clumps and he broke out in a rash. Finally, one doctor told him his cortisol level was so high he may not live to see 40. Karp legitimately believed he was dying.

When Karp came across a bit of research that linked his rash to his keratoconus, he decided to try and cure himself by getting more sleep and altering his diet. Though it took some time for Karp to retrain himself to sleep, about six months later he had recovered from every symptom he was suffering with. And although Karp is an extreme case of someone who trained himself to forgo sleep, these are real symptoms that can occur in anyone suffering from lack of sleep.

Find out if you are sleep deprived by taking the quiz devised by James B. Maas, PhD. How else can you incorporate more rest, relaxation and sleep into your weekly agenda? Do you think you’d benefit from slowing down and taking time out for yourself during the day? What positive changes do you think you’d see? Talk to us in the “Comments” section below!