The Shriver Report – Sleep Deprivation: Why It’s No Joke
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Sleep Deprivation: Why It’s No Joke

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I remember exactly what I was wearing when I walked into the Kroger supermarket in Little Rock, Arkansas to buy light bulbs: dark blue jeans with two vomit stains from my 8-month-old, a black t-shirt with rice cake droppings and my hair was pulled back with two hair clips, Melissa Gilbert-esque Little House on the Praise style.

I felt alone and giddy. My boys who were both under two and half years old had finally entered morning care, I was just returning to work, my husband was traveling in Africa, and my family lived over 1,000 miles away.  Walking into a store alone at 11 a.m. felt similar to what it used to feel like to sit at a café on a workday– total indulgence.

The aisles at Kroger are wide and packed with everything imaginable: specials on toilet paper, matches, two-for-one on boxes of tissues with lotion. I walked with urgency because time was ticking – I had to pick up the kids in an hour.

As I approached the light bulb aisle I laughed to myself about having gone through another stop sign that morning without stopping and driving my car up onto a curb. I had just told my husband the last week, I feel drunk when I’m driving.

And this morning proved it. But that’s what more than two years of poor sleep will do to a person. My son Jacob screamed from 10 days after he was born and didn’t stop for 18 months; day and night. I averaged five broken up hours of sleep per day.

I’m okay, I told friends. Fine. Really. I don’t need sleep. I’m in love with my baby and the next baby who arrived 19 months later, too. Why worry about sleep when I’m needed by others who can’t pull up their pants on their own yet?

I needed light bulbs. Aisle seven.

Leaning over to buy a 4-pack of General Electric light bulbs I sensed my balance was off. Being a mom I grabbed a juice pack from my pocketbook knowing that juice packs solve virtually all problems. But this time the holy juice pack failed me. The aisle was still spinning. People walking towards me felt oddly close, as if they were Halloween zombies headed in my direction. I could feel my heart beat in my neck like a marching band drum on speed.

My mind was also on over-drive, multiple thoughts fighting for top of the list: What will happen to my children if I die? It’s only dizziness and chills and blurry vision…it will go away.  I’m dying. Will I go to heaven? Should I call my mother? How long until I have to get the kids? Damn Tim for being in Africa.

I called my best friend, Melissa.

Somehow I managed to get to my car. As Melissa pulled up in her minivan the world was still spinning and I was holding on to the car for dear life.

We got to the hospital emergency room and I arranged for another friend to pick up my kids. Then I passed out.

When my eyes opened a few minutes later, four doctors were standing around me smiling, making me fear the worst. Cancer. I knew it. I start writing my eulogy in my head.

Four hours later I got my diagnosis: anxiety. And an offered solution: anti-anxiety pills.

I cried. Now, you have to understand one thing. I ate quinoa, drank carrot juice, and had not taken even Ibuprofen in nearly a decade. And now I was going to take anti-anxiety pills?

I was a happy mom. I loved my kids. I was okay. Really. I was fine.

I tried to not take the pills. If I don’t ever have to go buy light bulbs again I could live my life without a drug. If Jacob would stop waking up at 5 a.m. I’d be able to string a sentence together, and not go over curbs and through stop signs. Maybe even exercise again and not feel the world spinning when I walked outside my door.

In the end I decided not to change a thing about my life and take the pills. It was easier. For six months I popped a pill for anxiety every day. Then a year passed. Then two. When year three rolled around, I finally flushed the pills down the toilet.

What changed? The day my youngest son entered full day pre-school, instead of going to my home office I stopped at a yoga studio across the street, ostensibly to get my mommy body back in shape. When I walked in I found out about a class called yoga nidra meditation where all you do is lie down like sleep and receive a guided meditation. Twenty dollars for a nap? It sounded nuts, but I signed up anyway.

I went to class every Friday for one year and everything changed. It turns out yoga nidra meditation is like sleep on steroids. Unlike sleep, which is great for restoring your body but it’s an unconscious state, yoga nidra takes you into a sleep-like state consciously and with intention. As a result you feel super-charged in ways that include more energy, better sleep, and your anxiety lessens because the cortisol in your body decreases significantly.

I felt happy in a way I had never felt before. I threw out the anti-anxiety pills and made a commitment to stop laughing about sleep deprivation and talk seriously with every exhausted person out there about the benefits of restoring oneself through sleep, deep rest and yoga nidra meditation.

I’m on a mission to get people to take their fatigue seriously so they can play big and bold in the world. Studies show that getting good sleep and more rest improves concentration and memory, increases productivity, reduces inflammation, decreases heart attacks and strokes, and impacts the balance of hormones that affect weight. And then there’s my secret sauce: yoga nidra meditation, an easy to do technique that includes sleep, mindful meditation and deep breathing. Why wouldn’t every fatigued person add this to their sleep menu?

My kids are now 12 and 14 years old. Our days are filled with soccer games, practices, guitar lessons, theatre productions, and navigating and monitoring technology. It’s a busy, modern life for sure.  But these days the mantra singing in my ear goes like this: “be good to yourself.”

Today I proudly tell people I am managing my fatigue, not hiding from it. I also tell people I’m not okay if I’m not okay. Really. It’s fine.

Karen Brody is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Karen Brody is the CEO of BOLD Tranquility, a fatigue management system for modern life to help busy people sleep better, improve concentration, and operate in the world happier and healthier.
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