Without enough sleep I find myself struggling—moving through my day the way it feels to move through water. Everything is harder and slower and I feel stressed all day because I have to push myself to focus and be alert. Besides the headaches this gives me, I have much less energy, am less creative, and can only concentrate on one thing at a time instead of being able to handle several things at once. Moreover, when I am so low on energy, I tend to isolate myself and not interact as much with coworkers or to participate spontaneously in conversations. I'll usually resort to having coffee to try and boost my energy and alertness levels but the caffeine high only works for a short period. Afterward, I'll be even more tired because my body has been running on overdrive. It's not a good way to operate.
Over the years, I've learned that the best thing I can do for my health and for enjoying my life is to get at least eight hours of sleep a night (individuals vary in the number of hours for optimal sleep). Even a deficit of half an hour a night makes a difference. Because I know this about my body and because I cannot enjoy the moments of my days—ordinary or otherwise—if I am not fully present, there are other areas of my life I will skimp on before I skimp on sleep. For example, I will consciously choose to give up late-night or early-morning activities to make sure I get enough sleep. If a project requires long hours to complete, I can work for long periods and skip meals. This isn't the best way to operate either but the discomfort I feel never equals how bad I feel to have to slog through on too little sleep. In terms of affecting the quality of my life, sleep is the single most important tool I have.
—H.C., Washington, DC
I'm now 33 and have been meditating for almost nine years. I started because friends kept telling me it would be helpful for the anxiety and compulsive eating that resulted from a traumatic incident. I honestly didn't want to meditate because I assumed it would be "New-Agey" and weird. However, the difficulties with food made me willing to at least try.
I practice secular Mindfulness Meditation, which means I focus on being aware of the present moment. Of course I get lost in thoughts-like planning something for work-and then I realize I'm thinking and instead just watch the thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky. Over time, I found that, as I became curious about my anxiety and food cravings-rather than thinking they had to go away-I was able to be calmer and more compassionate about them.
Not only has meditating helped me deal with emotional and physical pain and stress, but it has also helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin. My inner-critic no longer has a strangle-hold on me. As I become more compassionate toward myself, I'm also more sure of myself and kinder when relating to others. I am finding that the world is a safer and more beautiful place to be.