Sleep and Stress: A PSA from Master Sleeper Amanda Hirsch

Dear America,

I hear your sleep deficit is getting worse and worse.

I know it's true. Most of my friends are insomniacs; yes, most. They mention it casually: "Oh, yeah, I go through periods of time where I just don't sleep much more than a couple hours a night..."

[Sound of brakes screeching]

A couple hours a night?! How do you function, America?

This dog is a good sleeper.Seriously. My heart brims with compassion for you. And at the risk of having you hate me, I confess, my problem is of the opposite variety: I sleep too well.

I've been known to fall asleep in bars and restaurants, at rock concerts, and once on a bench outside a souvenir shop in Nags Head, North Carolina. If I am out past midnight, it's a miracle, friends, because at around 10 or 11 pm, I start to get that itch that tells me: Must. Go to bed. Soon.

I am a master sleeper, America; but am I a master relaxer?

You'd think so. And yet, I'm not sure. As I learned at restorative yoga teacher training last year, from teacher Jillian Pransky -- sleep and relaxation are not synonymous. How many of you grind your teeth when you sleep? Right. How many of you have anxiety-ridden dreams? We are so wound up, that even when we sleep, we don't always let go of the stress we carry through our days.

This is a sad state of affairs.

We are not just experiencing an epidemic of sleeplessness, America; we are experiencing an epidemic of stress.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of all office visits to family physicians are due to stress-related symptoms. And stress is linked to the leading causes of death in this country, from heart disease to cancer. We are stressing ourselves to death.

This cat: also a good sleeper.I realize that this news may be, well, stressful.

But consider it a call to arms: What are you doing to reduce the stress in your life? What will you do?

Personally, I find nothing works better than restorative yoga, which induces the body's relaxation response. You can also try listening to guided relaxations, such as this one from my aforementioned teacher, Jillian.

Other ideas to help you relax:

  • Spend time with people who understand and accept you.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Spend time with animals.
  • And of course, there's always good old-fashioned massage. If you live in New York, I highly recommend Keisy Oriental Nature Center in the East Village...$45 for 60 minutes of intense, no-frills, wonderful massage.

Wishing you all sweet dreams,
Amanda

The images above are by Flickr users Miikka Skaffari and Jen.