Who would imagine that rest and sleep could become not only elusive, but also a source of stress and concern? For many of us—at different times and for different reasons—experiencing deep, peaceful sleep becomes a challenge.
Many things that disturb our sleep are new and considered cool or even necessary; others have existed since time immemorial; and some are beyond our immediate control.
However, there are many sleep-saboteurs we have chosen. They sneaked into our lives innocuously and later we don’t recognize them for what we have allowed them to become: addictions and aberrations of nature.
Consider the two most pervasive:
Junk light in myriad forms has infiltrated our offices, streets, and even our homes—glaring from their sources only inches from our eyeballs. Ever brighter and potentially harmful artificial fluorescent and LED lighting[i]; flashing neon signs; piercing lights on smoke detectors; TVs, phones and tablets; humidifiers, now glowing orbs of bright colors; and lit electrical outlets and power bars are so pervasive that there may be several or up to a dozen glowing devices surrounding our bed. Worse, we bring our own ultra-bright, artificial light devices into our beds with us and leave them on all night.
Some folks have been so inundated with junk light that they have been anaesthetized to the effects—meaning they barely notice it and can sleep surrounded by it. However, according to the precepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and western medicine, it is still affecting them.
Without digging deeply, let’s take a glance at how light in general affects us (for more information on harmful effects of artificial lighting, read the European Commission’s report). Western science has identified light-sensitive eye cells that have nothing to do with vision, rather, these intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells serve to absorb light and regulate our circadian clock.[ii] During my TCM studies, I learned that Chinese medicine practitioners understood this phenomenon centuries ago, using different terms to explain waking:
When sunlight enters the eyelids, it stimulates liver “chi” (energy) to flow, which stimulates us to wake.
Junk sound is as pervasive as junk light. If we live on busy streets or have sleep partners with different schedules, we may not be able to eliminate all noise.
However, many of the offensive sources of junk light come with bonus beeps, buzzes, and shrill junk sounds (just in case the light beams piercing your eyelids all night didn’t wake you)—which in a way is good news! We can eliminate many sources of junk sound and light and its damaging effects on our sleep patterns in one felled swoop, starting under the sheets.
You may be the primary source of your sleep issues, so understanding and claiming your Bedroom Bill of Rights will be of your choosing and volition. In the case where your sleep partner is the primary source, let us consider a piquant question from Plato’s Republic:
“can we consider administering any soothing cordial or advice to him [or her] without revealing to him that there is sad order in his wits?[iii]”
Yes! Claim your Bedroom Bill of Rights
1. You have the right to a bedroom free of devices.
You determine your comfort level with the presence of devices. Although it may sound strange or unreasonable to those accustomed to sleeping with devices, nothing electrical, glowing, buzzing, ringing, vibrating, pulsing or beeping is required in a bedroom. Nothing. If you wish to keep your devices in your room—and need to have them on but not have them disturb you—you can place black electrical tape over the little evil glows and turn off the menacing sounds. If you have a sleep partner, ideally a compromise can be reached when there’s a difference of opinion.
2. You have the right to a lights-out-time.
You have the right to request that your sleep partner and you determine a time together at which TVs, tablets, phones, and all other devices are turned off. This may or may not be exactly at the time you wish to go to sleep, but research indicates that it is wise to have device-free time before sleep to avoid disrupting our sleep pattern.[iv]
If one partner is dedicated to a regular sleep schedule and the other is dedicated to all-night web surfing and movie fests—it’s time for a conversation. All partners will come to their own conclusions, and mine would be that with a little give and take, the end result should be that if one must continue to device-party until wee-hours, he or she can do so in the other room or on the sofa. When ready for lights-out at a mutually agreed time, come on back. The bed is warm and waiting!
3. You have the right to a regular bedtime.
As always, flexibility and compromise are requisite in a relationship. When the patterns, habits, or demands of one side are compromising the health of the other, it’s time for another heart-to-heart.
4. You have the right to not be intentionally woken up.
Couples should come to their own balance and agreement around the subject of being awoken from a deep sleep by a frisky partner. Some couples may have an understanding that whenever the other wishes, he or she can wake the other and they can yabba-dabba-doo till sunrise. However, if one partner requests no intentional waking to satisfy sexual desires on certain evenings, or when needing to wake refreshed for work, or for any reason—that request is to be respected. Something intended to be loving, fun, and even spiritual turns into a drag on mind, body, and relationship when it leads to sleep deprivation.
5. You have the right to not be routinely, unintentionally woken up.
In Arianna Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution, she discusses how growing up in her family home, it was absolutely expected that everyone would do their best to be quiet and avoid waking anyone sleeping. The need for sleep was respected, as it must be for anyone concerned with health, longevity, radiance, and positive relationships.
There are several ways our partner can unintentionally wake us, but one of the most common is snoring.
A common reaction from the snoring partner upon being asked to address the snoring issue is to feel hurt, angry, or rejected. “It’s not my fault,” may be their exact words or implication.
Even if not, it’s not their sleep partner’s fault, either—and blame isn’t the goal. Sleeping well and a happy relationship are the goals. It may or may not be a sensitive subject for your sleep partner, but in either case you have the right to address it.
If your partner’s snoring regularly wakes you, ask that partner (hopefully, very lovingly) to inquire into ways to minimize or eliminate the snoring. If that fails, you have the right to ask (very, very lovingly), to sleep in separate rooms when it comes time for shut-eye. The bottom line is, no one will feel cuddly, happy, and sexy if irritated and exhausted night after night! Better to have nurturing and fun time together in bed, and then to sleep separately and soundly.
Healthy sleep gives us all it can seemingly take.
· It’s not lost time. It gives us more time, and even a longer life.
· It’s not for the lazy. It gives us the energy to do more.
· It doesn’t deprive our relationships. It makes them stronger.
· And if you’re like so many of us and need to “justify” getting proper sleep, recall the words of Heraclitus:
“Even a soul submerged in sleep
is hard at work and helps
make something of the world.”
Working with ourselves and our partner to change bedroom/sleep patterns can be tough, even when we know all the important truths about why we must.
If all else fails, here’s one last bit of information that will encourage us to assert our Bedroom Bill of Rights and get proper shuteye. The results of a study at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden[v] indicate:
“Not getting enough sleep makes you ugly.”
Whoa! On that note, I’m off to take a nap.
Wishing you the sweetest of dreams and best of health and happiness!
[i] An insightful report on the dangers of artificial lighting: http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/opinions_layman/artificial-light/en/index.htm
[iii] Gamble, Richard M., ed. The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being, Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007. Print.
Allie Chee After earning a BA in literature, a 2nd degree black belt in Korean martial arts, and certification in Traditional Chinese Medicine; 20 years traveling in 50 countries; working in numerous entrepreneurial ventures; and serving as co-publisher of a leading financial industry magazine, Allie Chee lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and daughter.
Her published titles are: New Mother; Free Love; Go, Jane!
Her articles have appeared in: Midwifery Today, The Well Being Journal, The Holistic Networker, The Birthing Site, Natural Mother Magazine, and Thrive Global. www.alliechee.com