The Building Blocks of Self Care: Sleep

In a previous post, we talked all about what self-care is, why it matters, and how it can lay the foundation for other even more transformational changes in your life.  Here we dig into the building blocks of self-care:

Let’s look a little closer at Sleep!

To understand why sleep is so important to our health, it’s important to understand what happens in our bodies when we sleep.

Though you may feel like your body is at rest while you sleep, quite the opposite is true. During sleep, your body and mind are busy at work. The immune system uses this critical time to reset, regenerate, and reload for tomorrow’s activities.

While you sleep, the busy overwhelmed portions of your brain finally have a chance to shut off and rest while the neurons responsible for memory and problem-solving are at work rebuilding and laying down pathways to solidify daytime experiences. Deep sleep also known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) affords the brain a chance to sort through the day’s experiences without distraction.

Research has shown that without the Deep REM sleep we all should be experiencing each night, animals and humans suffer devastating physical and emotional impairment. It’s no wonder then that sleep deprivation is often used as a form of torture!

Think about that for a moment… sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture! A torture that we often inflict on ourselves.

When we miss sleep, or our sleep is shortened, we are causing the natural stage development to be interrupted. Some of that stage sleep we can make up easier than others. Although all of the stages of sleep are important, deep sleep may hold the highest priority.

Researchers have spent many years studying sleep health and hours required to achieve it. On average, adults are thought to need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Children require much more. Teenagers definitely require much more sleep than most of them get, a whopping 8-10 hours! See the chart below to learn of the new sleep recommendations determined by The National Sleep Foundation.

The recommended sleep ranges for children, teens, and adults.

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
  • School-age children (6-13): 9- 11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

The above recommendations are averages- and we know that each of us is uniquely individual in our health and circumstances. During times of illness and high stress, our bodies need more sleep than we normally do.


My recommendation to my clients is to set a goal to get a minimum of  7  hours of sleep a night. This is just a minimum goal and I look at it as a great place to start.

Your Sleep Account

How much sleep you get on average determines the balance in you “sleep account”.  Just like a bank account, you may be well funded and “in the black” (“sleep-healthy”) or deficient and “in the red”.  How much sleep do you need to be considered fully funded? When you are “sleep-healthy” you get enough sleep to meet your body and brain needs on a regular basis.  If you’re running the numbers on your own sleep account right now, don’t feel too bad if you’re in fact running at a deficit, you’re not alone!

According to a study conducted by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American adults doesn’t get enough sleep.

The best way to determine how much sleep you actually need is to do a little test. The next time you have a week of vacation or a group of days that you do not have obligations to get up early for, turn off your alarm and let yourself sleep until you wake up on your own. In order to get an accurate idea of your personal sleep requirement, you will have to do this for more than just a day or two, since you may be trying to catch up on deficient sleep for the first few days.

Another way to determine your personal sleep need is to start a sleep journal. This can be a simple notebook in which you record the time you go to bed, the time you wake up and how rested you feel throughout the day. This may seem like a bit of work, but remember you are gathering data that will help you set goals that will protect you and help you thrive in your life. After a few weeks of keeping your sleep journal, you will be able to see the patterns that are working for you and the ones that are hindering you. (To read more about Sleep Journals, click here.)

As you strive to take control of your sleep, the most important thing to remember is that your body and brain are creatures of habit. Literally, everything you do to improve sleep has to do with training your brain.

You can train your brain in the following ways:

Create your perfect sleep environment

There are several conditions that are optimal for the body and the brain to relax and do the important work of sleep. Temperature and light are two of the biggest factors that influence how fast we fall asleep and how well we stay asleep. Sound can be a detriment or a help in reaching our sleep goals. You can prepare your sleep environment so it literally becomes a trigger for your brain to sleep. Read more about The 7 Keys to a HIgh-Quality Sleep environment.

Create a sleep Routine

Your brain loves routines. It will try to automate as much as it can in your life, and when you get into bad sleep habits, it automates that too!

Creating routines that lead your body toward sleep time each night is a simple process, though not always easy. It takes creativity and dedication, but with persistence, most sleep difficulties can be overcome.

Having a good sleep routine is also beneficial for your babies and children. The sooner the whole family gets on a solid sleep schedule, the better. That’s why we explore strategies to help your kids so you can too.

Refine your sleep attitude

How you approach your sleep is incredibly important in taking care of yourself. All too often we see sleep as the surplus time that we can dip into when life gets busy.  Setting boundaries around your sleep require an attitude of compassion and protection. When we put sleep into the proper place in our lives, we are able to get the fuel that keeps us strong and powerful in our lives.

Troubleshooting Sleep Problems

Sometimes, after all of our initial efforts, we are still struggling with getting a good night’s sleep. There can be several reasons for this. Our bodies are tied closely with our emotions and when we are under stress or in grief, our sleep can be affected. Changes to our health, medications, and hormonal changes all can influence our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. Sometimes it takes a detective mentality to explore the possible reasons and come up with some solutions.  When you have tried everything in your power, it may be time to seek the help of a professional. We can walk through the questions to ask, and give you some ideas where to look for that extra help.

The goal is to PLAN for your sleep each and every day.  When something is important to you, you prepare for and take exceptional care of that thing. You are worth taking care of- so take the time to plan when and what you are going to eat!

Remember every little step contributes to the overall goal!


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