This morning I was surprised to see a blog post on the Internet titled something like, “It’s not easy to be a minimalist.” Then when I thought about it, most of the articles I read these days about simple living or minimalism focus on the struggle to de-clutter or reduce one’s debts—as though this new lifestyle was a chore instead of a pleasure. But at the core of how I define simple living are the opulent gifts of freedom, rest, peace, time and contentment. A great outcome from any one of those is a good night’s sleep. While seldom mentioned when listing the benefits of minimalism, I think most people overlook the fact that sleep, and sleeping well, is one of the most luxurious aspects of a richly contented life.
The way I see it, minimalism is the reduction of elements that complicate life, so that should lead to better and more restful sleep. A core definition of simple living is celebrating what we have, rather than obsessing about what we don’t have. But, like so many things in our culture, if we approach a new lifestyle as though it is something we must acquire or conquer it becomes just another unpleasant task, rather than an advantage. Plus, it’s easy to ignore sleep because even though we generally spend 1/3 of our life doing it—it is so routine that there are plenty more interesting and sexy things to think, talk and write about.
Instead, many people would rather tell you how much they “used to make” and now do without, or how they eliminated x,y & z from their lives and how much more tidy their life now looks and feels. For some people, minimalism and simple living are trends that sound good, in some cases look good, but only superficially address what’s really going on behind the scene. That’s why I’m convinced that the quality of a person’s sleep just might be a good indicator of whether a person is really living a simple lifestyle.
What is it about sleep? According to most studies, the average adult needs eight to nine hours of reasonably sound sleep a night for optimum performance. While too much sleep isn’t good (10+ hours per night)—anything less than eight hours causes memory, health and attention to falter. That doesn’t mean that you can’t function on less (and a large portion of people in our culture do) but it does mean that your mental functions and actions are compromised even if you have no idea they are.
What are the proven advantages to sleeping well?
- Improved memory
- Improved learning and cognitive function
- Better focus and sharper attention span
- Lower stress levels
- Less risk for chronic disease like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease
- Help with weight control and reduced risk of obesity
- Decreased cortisol production (cortisol is a stress hormone)
- Reduced anger, mood disorders like depression, anxiety, and mental distress
- Enhanced immune function
- Fewer colds
- Reduced use of alcohol
- Increased life expectancy of up to 15%
- Increased creativity
- Improved stamina, strength and general athletic ability
- Better reaction time and decision-making skills (helps to avoid accidents and injury)
Until about 15 years ago it was believed that many people could function just fine on four or five hours of sleep. But a rash of current research now shows that only about 5% or less of the population can maintain their functioning with that little amount of sleep. Now however, even though 8 to 9 hours of sleep is optimum for adults, according to the National Sleep Foundation most Americans average 6.9 hours. That explains why many people are so tired much of the time. Unfortunately, just like I’ve written about in several other posts, we are very good at rationalizing our actions,so although we think we are getting by with little sleep, we don’t even know what we don’t know.
Clearly, a good night’s sleep is vital and important to a healthy, happy and content life. Of course there are times when all of us are challenged with issues that disrupt our sleep—like health or family upsets—but hopefully those issues are temporary, not chronic. That’s why even though I don’t consider myself an authority, it makes sense to me that good sleep should be an important element to anyone who wants to live a minimalist or simple lifestyle. Minimalism does not happen in a void. Unless the actions of our philosophy or our lifestyle add benefit to our lives, what is the point?
In some ways that question is similar to one posed to people who are focused on creating a healthy lifestyle for themselves but seem to ignore the pivotal requirement of a good night’s sleep. While a person can pump themselves with vitamins, organic food and the latest diet, if they aren’t also sleeping well they can’t consider themselves completely healthy. Likewise, you can call yourself a minimalist, quit your job and sell all your clothes and furniture, and while that might bring you some satisfaction, unless it also brings the peace of a good night’s sleep, you just might be running from something instead of striving towards it.
Naturally there are dozens of reasons why a simpler lifestyle appeals to so many people right now. But instead of making it reactionary to what’s happening in the economy, maybe its SMART to recognize that its real advantage is a change of heart and a connection to the whole. The world doesn’t need more superficial band-aids for what’s going on in the world. Instead, encouraging practices that bring peace, joy and happiness to ourselves and those around us—like a good night’s sleep—should be a priority we can all embrace.
“Sleep is the best meditation.” ~Dalai Lama
“For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” ~Steve Jobs
“A well-spent day brings happy sleep.” ~Leonardo da Vinci
Photo Credit: http://morguefile.com/archive/display/49330