313: Sleeping Well = More Energy

–SLEEPING well is a struggle for me. I often face the easel wishing I could have slept better, more prepared to paint well. Too often exhaustion casts a shadow of confusion over my mind obscuring the clear thinking necessary to creativity.

Shawn Stevenson, the author of Sleep Smarter, writes that sleep is the secret sauce that makes exercise, meditation, and eating programs work. In the absence of quality sleep, all other efforts to improve energy levels will not succeed.

Stevenson’s premise is that we are creatures who have adapted to the cycles of this planet with incredible precision. Our goal now is to shrug off the habits made available by the modern world. We need to consciously sync our lives to the rhythms of the planet. He suggests we sleep when it’s dark and be active when it’s light. We should have a regular bedtime around 10:00 and sleep 8 to 9 hours a night. I found his arguments compelling despite being a night owl with ample excuses why I need to work late. Stevenson claims that one-third of the populace find rising early difficult but contends we will be happier and healthier if we adhere to the natural day/night cycle.

In a previous post, I characterized the hormone cortisol as a bad hormone. But if our bodies create it, it is by definition good, in the right doses and at the right time. The right time for our brains’ cortisol bath is in the morning. This can be enhanced by exercise, which for me includes a mile walk and light weight lifting for 15 minutes. Cortisol must be produced early in the morning to stimulate the proper hormone cascade throughout the day. Exercising excessively later in the day will cause you to sleep poorly.

Another essential hormone for good sleep is melatonin. You get it by exposure to sunlight–not lights, lamps, or glowing computer screens. About a half-hour a day is adequate. And it doesn’t matter if it’s cloudy or not. If it is light from the sun, your body will produce the right amount of melatonin that will later provide you with the right hormone balance for sleep. Don’t try to cheat mother nature by using melatonin supplements. They will work at first but will eventually supplant your regular production, and your body will stop producing its own supply.

Negative hormone stimulants include viewing a blue screen device (including television) within two hours of your 10:00 bedtime. This type of light stimulation will trigger a hormone bath counter to achieving a restful state. A better alternative is to use warm light in your bedroom and read or listen to books on tape before sleep. Listening to books on tape allows for sketching or other simple tasks in harmony with winding down in preparation for sleep.

Other tips include limiting or avoiding caffeine, drinking lots of water early in the day (to avoid nighttime bathroom visits), and practicing meditation both before bed and if you wake during the night.

I see several personal obstacles to Stevenson’s recommendations, primarily setting a fixed and early bedtime. But his arguments made sense, and I plan to implement them as best I can. His main premise is that we are subject to the wisdom of Mother Nature–and we disregard her to our peril.

As always let me know what you think.

Brad Teare –February 2017

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Updated: 24th September 2023
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