“Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life's feast, and the most nourishing.” - Macbeth
Those who work in emergency services have a constant flow of adrenaline running into their system, and that can have some significant detrimental effects. The problem is that having that constant presence of adrenaline and other stress-related hormones in our system leads to an actual addiction. We can’t seem to function without it, but at the same time we know it is slowly killing us. So, what do we do to combat that addiction?
One word – sleep. Sleep is the most important component of renewing our bodies on a daily basis. It has become an issue in modern day America because of our fast-paced society. Many first responders I’ve talked to seem to wear their lack of sleep as a badge of honor, as if sleeping less means they must be stronger and better at what they do. They justify it by saying, “I don’t need more than 5 hours of sleep,” which may be true if you also “need” to double your risk for cardiovascular disease and increase your risk of premature death by 24%, because that’s what the research says is going to happen! The issue is that lack of sleep takes away the recovery time we need to bring our stress levels down.
If you want to follow the best practices for improving your sleep and combating adrenaline addiction, there are several things you need to do:
- Have a consistent to-bed and wake-up time, even on weekends or days off. You confuse your brain when you don’t have a consistent sleep pattern.
- Avoid using electronics before bed, or in bed. If possible, store them overnight somewhere other than your bedroom.
- Darkness prompts the brain the rest, so it is best to keep your bedroom as dark as possible. And don’t try to fall asleep while watching television.
- Don't eat anything, and don’t drink alcohol or caffeine within a couple hours of bedtime. Otherwise, your brain will need to stay active controlling your digestive system.
- Finally, exercise regularly. Your brain uses 20% of the oxygen in your blood, and regular exercise keeps oxygenated blood flowing.
I am not a somnologist, so I’m going to keep this explanation as non-clinical as possible. There are two different types of sleep: non-dream sleep and dream sleep, and dream sleep is when you are getting the most restful, restorative, regenerative sleep. Each sleep cycle lasts up to 90 minutes. The first sleep cycle includes 5 minutes of dream sleep, and in each successive sleep cycle the amount of dream sleep increases by 5 minutes. The “sweet spot” for most people seems to be between 7 and 8 hours of sleep, keeping in mind that only about 20% of that will be the kind of rejuvenating sleep that our body needs.
If you are following the suggestions above and are still having trouble getting your mind to turn off so you can rest, you may need to consult your physician and have a discussion about the problem. If you are dealing with stress and anxiety in general, reach out to a trusted peer, or contact our peer support specialists at Call for Backup (m.me/callforbackup.org/) and we’d be happy to chat. Meanwhile, be safe, be well, and get some rest!