Better Sleep, Better Life, Better Planet
When you think of climate change and sustainability, what do you think about? Do you imagine rainforests and endangered species? Maybe the wildfires or flooding we’ve seen across the US? Or maybe your mind goes to the ocean and its vast biodiversity. All of these are important – but there’s one more thing we should consider when it comes to sustainability: sleep. That’s right—sleep is a critical factor in creating a sustainable world and affects us all daily.
In this episode, continuing our conversation about prioritizing our health, I’ll talk about why getting good rest is vital for keeping us and our planet healthy.
Let’s start with what we most likely all know. Sleep is good for our physical health. We need sleep to restore our bodies. Harvard Medical says, “the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep.”
It also helps us to maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress, which we carry in our bodies.
If you’ve ever got a good night’s sleep – you probably know how good you feel the next day – energized and ready to physically take on the day. And if you didn’t sleep well, you might feel like almost half of all Americans who say they feel sleepy during the day between three and seven days per week.
But it’s more than just feeling sleepy – research at Columbia shows that “insufficient or poor sleep puts us at risk of premature aging, traffic accidents, and medical problems, ranging from depression to diabetes and heart disease.” Showing “that sleep is strongly linked to increased cardiovascular risk. About 647,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year—that’s one in every four deaths.”
Now let’s switch gears to sleep’s effect on our mental health.
The benefits of a good night’s sleep go beyond your physical health. It’s a form of self-care that can help to improve your mental well-being. Sleep is essential for our brain function because it affects how our nerve cells communicate with each other – and we know our brain needs to communicate with our entire body for proper functioning.
Good sleep improves memory and concentration, allowing us to make better decisions. While on the flip side, sleep deprivation can increase Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Productivity and creativity
Sleep helps us be more productive and creative as well. I could cite a study – but we all know how a poor night’s sleep affects our work the next day (we all reach for that extra cup of coffee to pick us up), which can build on our lack of sleep and even lead to burnout. Getting good sleep gives you energy, helps you to focus, and be less distracted by external factors like sights and sounds around you so you can be more productive.
Sleep helps us be more creative by allowing new ideas and solutions to form while we rest our minds – even in our dreams! Which trickles out into the waking world, where we can see things in a new light.
Self-awareness and planetary awareness
AND getting enough sleep can reduce stress levels, taking us out of ‘fight or flight mode’ and letting us experience more calm emotions, as well as improving our ability to reflect and be in the present moment.
When you don’t get enough sleep, you lose your sense of awareness. You become less conscious of the world around you and its consequences.
The impact on our environment
So you may already be putting together some thoughts on how all of this impacts our environment (or maybe not if you’re sleepy!) We learned in Episode 111, “Planetary Health: Live Long And Prosper,” that our health and the planet’s health are linked – but what does that mean in the context of what I just told you?
In terms of our physical health, the high rates of heart disease, mental health issues, immune issues, and more related to lack of sleep – that has an equivalent monetary cost to our economy. That’s billions of dollars per day put into medical care costs and lost productivity – aka resources – that could be put towards improving lives instead of just keeping us alive.
Everyone getting good sleep would also help reduce the world’s carbon footprint because we would use fewer resources – less food, water, electricity, and fewer emissions. This would be when we are physically asleep AND when we are awake.
Evidence suggests that a good night’s sleep of at least seven hours boosts productivity and motivation, leading to sustainable choices and ethical judgments. With a good night’s sleep, we can reflect, understand, and take action on climate change and sustainability issues. It allows us to be more aware of our environment and use fewer resources that are precious on this planet.
Self-awareness and mindfulness are so crucial to our sustainability journey – but it’s challenging to be mindful if we’re constantly walking around in zombie mode.
The effects that poor sleep has on our mental health can change the planet as well – touching every aspect of sustainable development goals, which we talked about in last week’s episode (The Role of Mental Health in Sustainability)
By getting enough quality sleep every night, you’ll feel less anxious about situations where you might otherwise feel threatened; this will allow you greater control over your reactions and solutions – for instance, climate anxiety and trying to do your part. We will also be able to come up with more creative solutions to the problems and stressors we face in our own lives and in the world.
We all want to improve our lives and protect the planet – but we can’t without the proper sleep and energy to do so.
It’s a form of self-care
If you’re struggling to fall asleep, it’s probably because your body is telling you something. A lot of people think that they need less sleep as they get older, but some sleep experts say that’s not true.
How to get a better night’s sleep
I’ve put together a few ways you can start getting a better night’s sleep.
- The first is to schedule in enough sleep every night. The Sleep Foundation says, “Adults between 18 and 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Adults over 65 need 7-8 hours.” Does it sound like you’re getting enough? If not, set a consistent time to sleep each night so you can fit in the number of hours your body needs.
- Have a nighttime routine (here are some ideas!) A nightly routine can help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling rested. It helps prepare your body for sleep by slowing your metabolism, lowering stress levels, and making you less alert. It helps relax muscles, calm nerves, and prepares your mind for rest.
- Create a restful environment specifically for sleeping in a cool, dark room that is comfortable and clean, so there are fewer external things in your environment to distract you.
- Pay attention to what you’re doing a few hours before sleep. Notice what you’re eating and drinking hours before bed, try not to go to bed stuffed or hungry, and avoid caffeine. And be sure to turn off your electronics at least an hour before bed because the blue light emitted by your devices impairs your circadian rhythm.
- If you can, spend time in nature camping. Studies show that spending a few days in nature helps to reset our circadian rhythm (allowing us to sleep better), increases our physical activity, which helps with sleep, helps us sleep better due to the natural ambient noise, and exposes us to less air pollution which can help sleep – not to mention the benefit of being able to connect and ground ourselves to the earth and ourselves.
Something to Grow On
Sleep is essential for our health and well-being. Getting good quality sleep every night isn’t just about feeling well-rested the next day; it’s also about taking care of ourselves long-term.
We can see that sleep is an important part of our lives and the world around us. It should be taken seriously as an essential resource and not just a luxury for those who can afford it. We need more people who prioritize their sleep for us to progress toward a sustainable society. When we take care of ourselves, we’re helping others and the planet.
I’ll leave you with a quote by the roman poet Ovid –
“Take Rest; a Field That Has Rested Gives a Bountiful Crop.”
Until next time, thanks for joining me, neighbor.
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