According to the CDC, there’s a public health epidemic you need to be on the lookout for. It’s not contagious, but has spread due to the North American lifestyle. You may have suffered from it yourself, without even realizing you were part of the population at risk.
That epidemic is insufficient sleep.
Blamed for automotive accidents, industrial disasters and occupational errors (including ones by those chronically sleep deprived health care workers) lack of sleep effects more than 35% of adults in our country each day. Each year, according to the National Department of Transportation, drowsy driving is responsible for 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries in the United States.
The trouble is, most of us push sleep to the back burner. We have so many things to do. Just getting through the demands of work, family life, chores, and a bit of leisure leaves little time for much else, sleep seems to draw the short straw. Add prepping to the equation and well, you get the drift: burning the candle at both ends becomes the norm rather than the exception.
But, out of all of your obligations, sleep is not the thing you should skimp on.
“Sleep is not a luxury – it is a biological necessity.”
I am not sure who said that first, but I do know that it is true. I merely have to reflect back upon my own life to know that the lack of sleep will result in diminished mental acuity, crankiness and even reduced physical strength and mobility.
Because of this lowered capacity when you’re deprived of Zzzsss, I would like to suggest that we add sleep to our set of survival skills.
Why? Well, under ordinary circumstances sleep has restorative and rejuvenating benefits. Add a dash of stress to the mix (and what could be more stressful than a natural or man-made disaster or crisis?) and we will need all of the strength we can muster just to get by.
What are the benefits of sleep?
I could fill volumes with the various benefits of sleep but for now, let me touch upon the highlights.
1. Sleep restores the body. Every part of the body benefits from sleep. Our body’s ability to rebuild itself at the cellular level depends on the quiet period commonly known as deep sleep (or non-REM sleep) to restore itself from the effects of stress, toxins, contaminated air, physical activity, and other maladies we are exposed to on a daily basis.
2. Sleep reduces stress. Have you ever gone to bed a bundle of knots, unable to talk to someone without barking, and unable to think clearly because you are worried about this or that? And then voila! You wake up the next day with a clear mind and gentle demeanor ready to face the day in a positive manner. What you have experienced is the release of calming hormones (serotonin and melatonin) that help us relax and overcome the stress hormones that have accumulated in our bodies during the course of the day.
3. Sleep reduces illness. During the sleep cycle, our bodies are in rest mode with not much to do at a physical level. During this rest mode, our immune system goes into high gear, fighting off the germs and bacteria that can lead to illness and disease. According to WebMD, a chronic lack of sleep has been associated with colds, influenza, diabetes, heart disease, mental health concerns, and obesity.
4. Sleep improves memory. Like magic, our brain keeps functioning during sleep, sorting out the events of the day and categorizing them into slots that can be retrieved later. Have you ever felt there was so much going on in your head that you could not think? Abstract, I know, but what has happened is that current events have not yet been stored as links in the memory portion of your brain. Luckily, sleeping will process these events and store them as bits of information that can later be recalled when needed.
5. Sleep increases physical and mental acuity and increases reflex response. A well-rested body has the ability to respond to hazards with maximum physical strength and accuracy. But even more important, having a rested body allows us to perform daily tasks in a more safe manner.
Case in point: have you ever driven a car while sleepy only to find yourself weaving in the roadway? Your concentration was diminished, right? Even worse, your ability to react to road hazards was greatly reduced. Now put yourself in a survival situation where you must defend your homestead and your family from intruders that are after your stuff. You will need all of your wits about you since failure to react may jeopardize not only your belongings, but your life. For the prepper, this should be of utmost concern.
6. Sleep helps you maintain a positive outlook. As bad as things may be, they are always better after getting a good night’s rest. Adequate sleep helps circumvent depression and gives you the energy to get up and go even when all motivation has “got up and went”. Decision-making becomes easier, as does thinking and problem solving in an imaginative and productive manner. These are skills that are lifesaving when dealing with survival in normal times, let alone times of crisis.
7. Sleep is the great healer. If you do become ill or injured, sleep becomes even more imperative. As I mentioned above, our cells regenerate during the deepest stages of sleep, and while our bodies are at rest, our immune system is at its busiest. The best thing a sick or injured person can do is sleep as much as possible to allow his body to heal and restore itself.
How much sleep is enough to become a well-rested prepper?
Good question and there’s no single answer.
The recommended average is between 7 and 9 hours per night. But my experience is that this number can vary, depending on the particular way your body is wired as well as the circumstances in your life at any given moment in time. For example, it is not unusual to need 10 or more hours of sleep when you are sick or under high levels of stress. On the other hand, some perfectly healthy people may need upwards of 9 hours of sleep each day, while others require as little as 6 hours of sleep. Add stress to the mix and, well, like I said, the perfect amount of sleep becomes elusive to predict.
I think the best thing to do is to experiment for awhile by going to bed when tired – not when the TV show is over, the last bill has been paid, or when your partner or spouse chooses to snooze. Then, if you can, eliminate the alarm clock and wake up naturally. Do this for awhile and soon you will learn what works best for you. If you wake up feeling refreshed, you have rested the proper amount of time. Groggy and foggy in the head? That can be a sign of both too much or too little sleep.
By experimenting with your bedtimes and wake-up times, you will learn what constitutes the right amount of sleep for you – the amount that leaves you feeling well rested and energized to face the day with enthusiasm and gusto.
How can you improve your sleep?
Sometimes it can be hard to turn your brain off at night. You mull through the events of the day, you remember the dishes in the sink, you worry about the kids, or you think about the bills. There are many natural ways to improve both the quality and quantity of your sleep. Lisa Egan, of Ready Nutrition, supplied the following tips in an article:
Establish consistent sleep and wake times – even on the weekends
Create a comfortable and inviting sleep environment – your bedroom should be calming, cool (65 degrees is optimal, but no warmer than 75 degrees), and dark
Create a bedtime routine – turn off electronic devices, take a relaxing bath or read a book (not IN bed), or listen to soothing music
Avoid using your computer or watching TV while in bed
Finish eating 2-3 hours before you go to bed
Exercise regularly (but not for a few hours before bed – it may keep you awake if done too close to bedtime)
Avoid caffeine too close to bedtime
She continues to suggest that if you have lain there for 30 minutes without being able to fall asleep, you should get up and do something in another room for a while before trying further to sleep. This prevents the anxiety that will make sleep even more elusive.
Egan also lists the following foods that may help you to get a good night’s sleep:
- Dark leafy greens
- Citrus fruit
- Whole Grains
- Dairy products
As well, certain herbal teas are recommended to reduce stress and aid in sleep.
When asked which herbs should be included in your prepper’s medical kit, Cat Ellis of HerbalPrepper.com and the author of Prepper’s Natural Medicine (a #1 new release a part of the newest Prepper Book Festival) said:
“Herbal remedies for sleep can be as varied as the reasons you are up at night. However, some of my favorites include: valerian root for general sleeplessness, skullcap for trouble sleeping due to irritability or stress, lemon balm and chamomile which are child-safe options. Passion flower can help when you just can’t get drowsy.”
The Final Word
The many benefits of sleep should not be lost on the prepper. As a skill – and as a way of life – adequate sleep should be embraced and practiced now while times are stable.
And for those who use lack of sleep as proof that they are so very important that they have no time to get adequate ZZZ’s?
I say phooey on them. When the SHTF, the well-rested prepper will prevail.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!