The Power of Sleep for Resilience

By Gail Wagnild

Reading time:  3 minutes

It’s hard to be resilient when I haven’t had enough sleep. Being resilient requires some enthusiasm to get up and get going, which is difficult to muster when I’m exhausted. When I’m tired from a sleepless night, problems can seem insurmountable; I have less ability to take things in stride, and am more likely to be negative and pessimistic.

Worries and unsolved problems have a way of showing up in the wee hours and refusing to leave. Then I fret that I’ll be too tired to deal with them in the morning and it becomes a vicious cycle. To make things worse, I know that during restorative sleep, important memories are consolidated and with good sleep our creativity is boosted as well. There are many reasons to get enough sleep but sleep can prove to be elusive.

You’ve no doubt been there, too. At least a third of us experience insomnia from time to time. There is a great deal of advice on how to get a good night’s sleep including not using sheets with a greater than 600 thread count, wearing socks to bed, and sipping chamomile tea or warm milk and molasses.

I’ve tried many remedies but have found the following to help the most:

  • If I get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time every day, even on weekends, and avoid naps, I find that I get the best sleep. The first step is to decide the optimal number of hours of sleep you need and then establish a routine.
  • I keep the bedroom at 60-67° F at night. I open the window a crack even in winter and the cold air is refreshing. A small drop in temperature at night will help you fall asleep.
  • I avoid caffeine after 12:00 noon. Coffee has a half life of 6 hours and so if I have a mid-day cup of coffee at 3 pm, half of it is still in my system at 9 pm.
  • If my mind becomes active after my head hits the pillow, deep breathing helps because it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and is calming. I breathe in to the count of 4 and out to the count of 7 to quiet my overactive mind.

These are the basic approaches for me. There are many other things to try also.

  • Avoid the blue light from screens within 2 hours of bedtime as it inhibits the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Try to resist the urge to check your phone in the middle of the night if you wake up.
  • I would avoid alcohol, too. Though it is a sedative and may help you feel drowsy, the quality of sleep will be worse with more middle of the night awakenings, increased snoring, and worse restless legs syndrome.
  • Seek out bright lights and sunshine as early in the morning as you can to help establish your Circadian rhythm.
  • Get some physical exercise every day.
  • Establish a relaxing routine before bedtime such as a warm bath.
  • And when I can’t sleep and am wide awake at 1:30 AM, I get up and do something else until I feel sleepy. I will admit that there have been times I am up and reading for the rest of the night but then I remind myself that maybe tonight I will sleep.

Resilience and sleep complement each other. It’s easier to respond to life’s difficult times when we are rested. Interestingly, it’s also true that as your resilience strengthens (i.e., living a meaningful life, feeling confident, having good problem solving skills, and not compromising your values), you will be able to sleep better as it is often concerns in these areas of our lives that disrupt our sleep.