OPINION: Sleeping in troubled times

While adequate sleep is critical to good health and longevity, sleep deprivation is currently on the rise.

  • Wednesday, December 12, 2018 7:30am
  • Life

By Diane Gillespie

Special to the Reporter

“This political climate is ruining my sleep,” a friend lamented.

In a new survey sponsored by Bankrate, researchers found 69 percent of Americans have difficulty sleeping because they worry and politics is increasingly one of the topics that keeps people tossing and turning. Sleep deprivation is on the rise at the very time that researchers are discovering the ways that adequate sleep is critical to good health and longevity.

As someone challenged by sleep myself, I worry firsthand about the ill effects of being sleep deprived. And when I tell people about my new book, “Stories for Getting Back to Sleep,” they want to share their sleep struggles. They want real talk and suggestions, not just “ain’t-it-awful” complaining that constitutes our socially acceptable script about not sleeping enough.

When I began the book three years ago, I had no idea that so many people, like me, were not sleeping or were taking sleep medications. The book was borne out of some soothing stories — scenarios really — that I first imagined after I read about the dangers of sleep medications in a study by Group Health and the University of Washington called the Adult Thought Study. Realizing that I needed more natural sleep, I found that the scenarios helped me fall back to sleep when I woke in the middle of the night and I started to write them down for others.

In exploring further, I discovered that the hazards of sleep deprivation had become the focus of a national conversation. Arianna Huffington left the Huffington Post to pursue Thrive Global and publish “The Sleep Revolution” (2016), which describes our culture as toxic to sleep. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep” (2017) explains the dire consequences of sleep deprivation and sleep medications.

It’s no wonder the medications are so popular. People need sleep, but pills are deceptive because the sleep is not natural. At some level we all know from experience that natural sleep is what we need to be at our best, our most humane and creative.

As a sleep advocate, I promote strategies that lead to natural and abundant sleep. Chief among them is cognitive behavior therapy, a method in psychology that helps people align their goals and behavior by thinking anew about their thinking.

My book helps us change the narratives we tell ourselves in the middle of the night. We can re-author those stories of desperation and woe and replace them with ones that allow us to sink deeper and deeper into restfulness and sleep. We then awaken refreshed and more ready to take on these troubling political times.

Diane Gillespie is a professor emerita at the University of Washington Bothell and will be reading from her book, “Stories for Getting Back to Sleep,” at 4 p.m. on Dec. 1 at The Book Tree, 609 Market St in Kirkland. All proceeds from the book go to Tostan, a nonprofit with the mission of empowering African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights.

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