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22nd Jan


The Role of Sleep in Our Lives

I have found in my role of therapist that one common area that is so pervasive in those seeking counseling is the lack of sleep that clients get on a nightly basis.  One would think that such basic needs, like sleep, one doesn’t deprive themselves of.  However, it is incredible how overlooked this aspect of one’s quality of life is.  What is equally puzzling is that almost every time that I mention it to a client, whether it is a child, adolescent, adult or couple, without fail, they acknowledge that more sleep is necessary, but don’t know where to find the time.  My response has always been – it is equally, if not more important than just about anything else that you are doing.  It is about priorities.  Taking care of your tasks are great and (hopefully) fulfilling, but if you don’t have the energy to do it, you are depriving yourself of the full appreciation of completing the tasks at hand.1(This article is not addressing those with clinically diagnosed sleep disorders, but those who don’t sleep enough by choice.)

Loss of sleep doesn’t only affect our energy to continue to act, but affects how we act as well.  It is well documented that our mood is affected by our sleep patterns.  University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.2

When someone is faced with some emotional disturbance, it comes out quick quickly that the requisite sleep is not being met.  My clients who have followed through on the suggestion to place sleep on their priority list have found a marked difference in their emotional functioning, in addition to executive functioning.  They remark how much better they feel in their marriage.  Or at the very least, how much more capable and confident they are face the task of improved relationships.  Maintaining relationships is a very hard thing to do.  Repairing relationships is even harder.  The constant struggle to change a behavior or cognitions is no easy task.  But, changing one’s schedule to prioritize sleep is significantly easier.  It’s not related to changing your cognitions or responses to an outside situation.  If its much easier to prioritize sleep and it is documented, both in the research, as well as anecdotally, that it improves the quality of life (be in personal, social or relational), why wouldn’t you want to do it?  Try it and let me know how it works.

  1. Dinges, D. et al., Cumulative Sleepiness, Mood Disturbance, and Psychomotor Vigilance Decrements During a Week of Sleep Restricted to 4 – 5 Hours Per Night, Sleep. 1997 Apr; 20 (4): 267–277.
  2. Zohar D, Tzischinsky O, Epstein R, & Lavie P (2005). The effects of sleep loss on medical residents’ emotional reactions to work events: a cognitive-energy model. Sleep, 28 (1), 47-54 PMID: 15700720
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