Make Like a Bear and Hibernate
This time of year I hear a lot from patients that they’ve been tired and sleeping more, and they’re wondering if that’s a bad sign. Most of the time, it isn’t. (Of course it can be; if there are other symptoms, do come in so we can touch base). Most of the time, it’s because it’s dark and cold and it’s time to hibernate! While it sometimes might seem nice to take a 3-month nap, we’re not quite as well suited to that as our friends, the bears. But it certainly is the case that we humans have evolved in conditions of increased rest over the winter.
How much rest? Listen to your body. Most people need about 8 hours of sleep per night when they’re well. I recommend targeting 9 hours per night under any conditions of illness or dysfunction, healing or recovery. Think about when you get a cold or flu: you feel completely wiped out. That’s because your immune system releases cytokines, or chemical messengers, into your bloodstream that make you feel cruddy and tired, so that you’ll sleep and rest. Your body does its healing work when asleep, under the influence of Growth Hormone. Don’t ignore your body’s signals that it needs time for healing, or shortchange its efforts at day-to-day restoration.
It’s true that some people do well on fewer than 8 hours of sleep. If you sleep through the night and regularly wake refreshed on 6-7 hours of sleep, and you’d rate your energy close to a 10/10 without caffeine — then you are heeding your body’s signals, and you have my blessing to continue what you’re doing.
Most people don’t tell me that, however. Most people say they are sleeping 6-7 hours per night, rarely wake feeling refreshed, hitting the snooze button 3 or more times, with low energy or requiring several cups of coffee. If that’s you, begin by going to bed earlier. I realize this seems like a no-brainer, but honestly, habits are often so ingrained that people may not stop to think about which of their habits are not serving them. If you’re one of the tired people, and you’re going to bed past 10pm, consider what you’re doing in the evenings that you can change or let go of. For example, is TV really a higher priority to you than your health? If you’re not well, then there’s something going on in your lifestyle, environment, biochemistry or emotional sphere, that’s not working for you, and you have to be willing to shake things up if you want a different result.
If you can’t sleep, that’s another story — there are lots of changeable reasons that people may have insomnia; make an appointment so we can start working on changing it.
One thing I routinely do for rest and restoration is take a “cat day.” [Lots of animals in today’s blog post!] What’s a cat day? It’s a day where you lie around, and don’t do anything your cat wouldn’t do. [This doesn’t quite work if you have a kitten.] That means no laundry or chores, and no errands. I realize my cat can’t read, but I like to read books, and maybe watch a movie in the evening. I schedule cat days on my calendar at least monthly, and make all to-do’s and social events happen some other day. Erase the worry about productivity from your mind – when I take a cat day on Saturday, I’m always more productive on Sunday, so it’s a wash. Yesterday a patient laughingly asked, when I assigned her a cat day, “is that allowed?” People don’t often think on their own to give themselves a day of complete rest, because our culture absurdly overemphasizes productivity and working hard (counterproductively so, if you ask me). So here you are – permission is hereby granted. After all, ‘tis the season.
Many blessings, and with wishes for a restful winter season (and Happy Holidays!),
Dr. Deborah Epstein