This subject is being constantly revisited for upgrades, as it is so very vital to life! I am trying to get it to the point where people will actually follow through on this!
The extreme importance
What it does
The cost of a bad night's sleep
Absolutely worth mastering
Preparation for sleep
Sleep is "revitalizer #1"
1. Allows the body to repair itself and to increase its immunity strength
2. Allows time for the mind to "integrate" occurrences and learning, increasing psychological resilience, and the ability to think and make good decisions.
Two key factors:
1. Quantity - minimum of 5 cycles, about 8 hours (can't get away with less)
2. Quality - time actually asleep (not awakened) without body energy drawn aside to change temperature or tension or uncomfortability or light or noises, starting with enough Melatonin or body won't repair (cut off blue light before sleep - see prep for sleep, below)
You cannot "get away with" not sleeping enough. Sleep deprivation puts one at the same level of functionality of a legally drunk person. You try to make up for it all day, feeling not as well as you could feel, having "periodic shutdowns" that you are not aware of (as the body turns itself off for blinks of the eye as a way to rest), not thinking alertly, not being sharp, functioning less well in relationships, and a drop of at least 30% in productivity. Oh...and you'll gain more weight. Your confidence will be lower. And your immune system will be compromised, while you DNA will be likely not to replicate well, causing cancer. And so on and on. You can't afford not to do sleep adequately!
Zombies, even if not high on the scale of zombiehood, do not do well in life!
Having less than 7 hours of sleep or more than 9 hours damages the balance of your hormones and throws off the body's functions. Plus one eats more when one hasn't slept enough!
Having irregular schedules of sleep, throwing off the natural sleep rhythms, causes both fatigue, erratic body function, and psychological unrest (anxiety) plus the inability to think logically - not good!!!! One must avoid destabilization no matter how much effort and discipline it takes. See the piece on Destabilization.
Trying to function when the arousal system and the resting system are in a dead heat causes one to feel tired and to be unproductive. This occurs in the afternoon, and should be charted by you. Taking a nap (just as many countries have learned) will increase your cognitive alertness for about the next six hours - a tremendous payoff in itself, with a large physical stabilization effect (blood sugar, etc.).
THE EXTREME IMPORTANCE
It is seemingly grossly obvious that sleep is of the greatest value (and necessity), yet most people take it for granted and do not honor it for all its vital importance for one's life, emotionally and physically.
We cannot function well without sufficient, reliable, consistent energy supply. (Duh!)
WHAT IT DOES
Your body shuts down and repairs itself. Your major organs are restored. Your immune system recharges. Old cells are replaced with new ones. Your mind relaxes and orders its thoughts, creating a healthy mental state.
THE COST OF A BAD NIGHT'S SLEEP
A bad night's sleep is costly: Feeling not so good, not functioning as well, not thinking as well, being less productive, raising likelihood of diabetes, causing "sleep drunk" (as Don Colbert, MD, calls it), endangering others lives, being more susceptible to disease, eating more, and relationships not going as well.
You'll eat more and are more likely to gain weight. You will not function well on the job nor in interpersonal relationships. Your psychological well-being will suffer tremendously, as well as your losing "strength" to handle life itself.
ABSOLUTELY WORTH MASTERING
Logically, it seems eminently obvious that one's effort in mastering sleep would have a huge, unquestionable payoff. But most people only read the occasional article and then follow good practices for a short period of time, drifting off into neglect and forgetfulness.
In the mastery of any area so complex as sleep, it is vital that one master the most important sub-skills (skills which are also useful elsewhere in life). The sub-skills lie in doing the opposite of "awake" behaviors. Calmness versus alertness. Serotonin vs. norepinephrine (adrenaline, etc.). Dark vs. light. Relaxation vs. tensing for action. No thought vs. lots of thoughts. No activity vs. hyper activity.
Do not stop short of becoming an expert at this, for it is done more than 25,000 times, which would multiply your errors, or, if you do it more right, it will multiply your benefits. DO NOT STOP SHORT ON BECOMING AN EXPERT!
[If you spent 100 hours perfecting all the pieces, you would easily gain back more than 10,000 hours, a 100 to 1 return for your efforts!]
All the subskills have to do with lowering activity and thought levels.
Napping (less than 45 minutes to avoid going into stage 3 sleep) will often restore the body dramatically - and it will help one to sleep better. Note that a body that is sleep deprived is in a state of exhaustion and thus also tension, which are both the opposite of what we want in order to go to sleep, as the body does not function well being that far out of balance. It is imperative through the use of napping or other relaxation skills that you rebalance the body and not tolerate it being out of balance for very long (in fact, it is acceptable only in dire emergencies). Keeping one's blood sugar stable, avoiding any whipsawing that damages the body. See Nutrition And Mood.
It is vitally important that you do not compromise on these essential skills and practices.
If you exercised, ate alot, engaged in a competitive game, shined a bright light in your eyes, you would be doing the opposite of what works.
The most obvious rule for creating what works is always doing the opposite of what doesn't work.
Turn off computers, TV, and all sources of blue light two hours before bedtime or wear blue light filtering lenses. (Specific recommendations are in The Sleep Checklist.)
Lower your body activity level by ramping down for an hour before sleep. A hot bath (as it relaxes, which is of course good, and it also starts the cooling down process afterwards that coincides with going into sleep).
Use the meditation and relaxation skills that put one close to the brain wave levels of sleep (as the transition is easier if you're right next to the sleep level!).
Don't exercise within 4-5 hours of sleeping. But do exercise regularly, as it calms and conditions the body.
No nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol within 5 hours of sleep. 8-12 hours is how long caffeine stays in the system, so if you have any difficulty sleeping, stop caffeine accordingly that long before sleep.
Don't eat a large meal later than 3 hours before bedtime. Eat more carbohydrates (but no high glycemic foods as those create sleep problems) and almost no protein. But do eat a small complex carbohydrate snack before bedtime, as it helps generate serotonin, which calms one.
No exciting reading (and most people recommend not reading in bed at all, though I find it a great way to slow down). No TV an hour before bedtime.
It is important, especially for poor sleepers, to set a specific regular bed and wake up time and to stick to it as if it were life or death (or at least a major determinant of the quality of life).
Herbs that relax one (though they may not be proven): Valerian, chamomile, lavender, hops, and passion-flower.
For the standard stuff read this Sleep leaflet (from the Royal College Of Psychiatrists).
Interesting, From A Different Point Of View:
Werner Erhard takes this one step further. Werner asserts bringing love and kindness to sleep ie bringing love and kindness to bear on the being you are in sleep, transforms sleep. And it's possibly even more than that. Bringing love and kindness to sleep ie bringing love and kindness to bear on the being you are in sleep, transforms tiredness, the waking experience of the autonomicity of sleep, as well as sleep.
From Sleep After Transformation (IV)