Deepak Chopra On The Phenomenon Of Sleep

Wind down and turn off the mental chatter

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It’s 6AM. The alarm goes off. Instead of easing into the morning bliss with your “Voices of Nature” alarm theme, you are jolted awake. The relaxing echoes of raindrops playing in the background of the alarm would indicate that you should be happy to wake, because after all it’s morning! It’s time to get up.

It’s time to begin again.

Unfortunately, it’s also time to reckon with the fact that once again you did not have a restful night’s sleep; and because of this, your day is really going to be a challenge.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “35% of Americans report their sleep quality as “poor” or “only fair” with 20% who reported that they did not wake up feeling refreshed on any of the past seven days.”

Aside from physical discomforts like a worn out mattress or aches and pains that give everyone a sleepless night now and then, many restless nights stem from the inability to “wind down” or turn off incessant mental and emotional chatter.

When mental chatter turns into something that you are unable to turn off, even for sleep, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Knowing that “sleep is the gateway through which a life of well-being must travel,” a restful night’s sleep can provide a wide range of solutions to everyday problems that impact overall well-being.

According to Deepak Chopra in addition to the mental blocks that can affect sleep, the “doing, doing, doing,” mentality that consumes our daily activities is another major contributor to sleep deprivation.

Dr. Chopra, a pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation and co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, explains the significant role sleep plays in overall health, and how the lack of it can negatively affect well-being:

BJB: What is good core health dependent upon?

DC: Core health is dependent on five main lifestyle issues:

  • Sleep
  • Meditation & stress management
  • Movement and mind-body coordination
  • Healthy emotions like love, compassion, joy and equanimity
  • Nutrition

I think if you pay attention to these five things, we enhance our self-regulation, and what is called homeostasis in the body, which is our body’s innate ability to regulate itself and heal itself.

Sleep is your number one health and well-being strategy. Most people don’t realize this, and that more than half of America is insomniac. They think if you don’t sleep a lot, you’ll get more done. Lack of sleep is responsible for obesity and all kinds of other chronic illnesses.

BJB: What is the spiritual block that is reflected through insomnia and other sleep disturbances?

DC: The block is of course that, ‘If I am awake and active and I’m always doing, doing, doing something my life is meaningful.’ But it turns out your life is meaningful if you’re unfolding your full potential, and your full potential resides in your spirit.

BJB: What are some physical response to the lack of restful sleep over a prolonged period of time?

DC: Lack of sleep causes inflammation in the body. It causes increase of susceptibility to just about any disease. It is responsible for obesity and diabetes because of hormonal disruption, not to mention that people who are suffering from lack of sleep have bad moods and are they’re in emotional distress all the time.

They have an inability to concentrate.

Some of the biggest accidents like the oil disasters, and the shipwrecks that we’ve heard of are all because of lack of sleep.

BJB: People may not necessarily correlate some accidents with lack of sleep.

DC: Correct. If you haven’t slept adequately for a day or two, your biological response would be the same as that of someone who is legally drunk.

BJB: What has been the most surprising find in your work regarding the benefits of sleep?

DC: The most surprising findings are consolidation of memory and the decrease in incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease.

When you are in deep sleep, that’s when all the toxins in your brain are removed. It’s the time when amyloid is cleaned out of your nervous system. Amyloid is one of the major causes of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Also creativity. The more restful your sleep, the more creative you are.

“Much more than just a time of rest and repair, sleeping allows us to not only process short and long-term memories but also reconnect with the original spirit or consciousness from which we incarnated. During the day, the people around us, our work, or even leisure activities occupy our minds. And at night, automatic thinking can take over, unless we offer the mind something else.”

The “something else” that can be offered are mindful exercises that center around calming the mind, and putting into place an on-going, restorative practice of mindful techniques that are conducive to a restful night’s sleep.

“As we train the mind to get in touch with focused breathing and calm down, restful sleep becomes a possibility.”

Important to every aspect of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, “sleep helps us move into a state of balance.” And in this place of balance, the soul, “now unencumbered by the body and mind, can let the rejuvenation begin.”