Foundations, Part II: Sleep

In the recent years of my counseling practice I’m finding that more and more a common major contributor to emotional disturbance is a lack of sleep. This kind of emotional disturbance is also known as a false mood. A false mood is tricky because you may think your anxiety or sadness is directly related to a specific problem, which may seem very large and important, even catastrophic. The reason the mood is false is because the severity of the problem can be deeply magnified by the environment of the unslept brain. It’s not that whatever situation you are perceiving isn’t a situation that must be handled, but because a brain that has not been properly rested is lacking the energetic resources to negotiate the problem effectively, it is perceived as much more difficult than it would be if the brain were operating at full power.

I suppose it could be argued that the mood is not entirely false, but rather, misinterpreted. We may believe we are feeling anxious about the problem itself, but perhaps the unpleasant feeling is actually our body warning us to stay away from that situation right now as we are in no condition to deal with it. This is an important distinction to make: if you believe the problem is what is unmanageable, this impacts your confidence in your ability to negotiate problems, and even your identity! (Because if there is a pattern of lack of sleep, it’s possible to begin to see oneself as an ineffective person in general.) But if you believe that you are simply too tired to deal with that problem right now, then you are putting more faith in yourself, and understanding that you are being affected by your situation (lack of sleep) rather than a lack of ability.

There is a lot to be said on the subject of learning how to interpret the information your body is giving you. What is important to consider from the above example is how our interpretation of what is happening in the world around us impacts how we feel about it: good, bad or neutral. We are the source of our emotions! – not the objects around us. (We also absorb emotions from others, which can be a powerful experience, and another lesson on interpretation.) This is a big topic and I will address it in more detail in future postings.

Of course, I really like a good TED talk, and so here is an excellent one on our topic. Share and enjoy! (By the way, you should be getting 8 hours of sleep per night – plan for it, commit to it – seriously.)