How good is your life? How do you measure how your life is going? I think for years I’ve been asking the wrong question. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to establish what it takes to live a good life. But more than that, I’ve been working to figure out a simple question that would immediately give insight into exactly how well someone is doing. I tried asking things like, how’s school? work? the kids? life? But I found typical responses lacking. Even mine. But there is another measure that does a pretty good job of incorporating all of those areas of life into one singular concept.
Sleep: A Measure of Overall Well Being
For many middle class Americans, how well you sleep can be one of the best indicators of overall well being. I like the concept and metric because it combines many different variables into one single measurable idea. I think it is more powerful than how much money, success, or stuff you have. Sleeping well is surprisingly complex and affected by many different things. In my life, factors such as exercise, stress, diet, security, job/income/housing and health all contribute to sleeping well.
Sleep and Stress
Exercise – On days I really don’t feel like exercising, the idea of sleeping well that night can be the little bit of extra motivation I need to get out and go. Strangely, when I am least busy (vacations and the like), I actually have more difficulty motivating myself to exercise. But I know I sleep way better when I’ve had a great work out.
Diet – What I put into my body has a huge impact on how well I sleep. Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and medications all affect my sleep. In addition, my body simply feels better when I am eating healthy, getting enough fluids and being mindful of the amount I am eating. I’m sure you have experienced a wonderfully tasty, nasty meal that woke you up and left you with an unsettled feeling during your sleep.
Stress – The bane of bad sleep for most individuals. There are many different types of stress but distress, opposed to eustress, is probably the largest inhibitor for restful nights. This can be caused by many things, but often stress doesn’t allow us to ‘turn off our brain’ and makes for restless sleep even if we are getting enough hours. Treating stress with alcohol or medication may help you sleep temporarily, but doesn’t really solve the underlying issue. Try to identify exactly what is causing the distress in your life and spend some time thinking how you can minimize that in the long run. Don’t let stress be a factor for your sleepless nights two years from now!
Physical & Emotional Intimacy – For those of us who are married, how you interact with your spouse and the status of the relationship can be a litmus test for easy snoozing. Typically, your spouse is the one you spend the evening with and is often the last person you talk to before hitting the pillow. Also, you will be spending time with them for the duration of the evening so it is useful to invest heavily in a healthy relationship. A loss of physical or emotional intimacy can also lead to unrest.
Security – Do you watch the evening news? That junk will make you crazy. The perception of security, or lack thereof, can be anxiety inducing for many (and especially young ones). Reducing fear doesn’t mean getting a fancy house alarm, it means understanding and being realistic about the actual issues that underly the fear. Do you watch scary movies or CSI? It sounds silly, but be careful about what you ingest visually to help minimize the unrealistic threats in most of our lives.
Job/Income/Housing – Along with stress and security, worries about jobs/income/and housing can also make us uneasy. In my life, I combat this fear by minimizing my expenses, and reducing income based risk. Despite the fancy math, I like the peace and risk reduction that comes with having a paid for home. Reducing job risk means keeping your skill sets and networks active and engaged even as you move through your career. You don’t have to be as fearful about your employment if you have a marketable skill set and are excellent in your field.
Removing The Crap So You Can Sleep Well
How well do you sleep at night? I still enjoy this question and I’m sure by now you have thought through some of the issue that may be affecting your life and your sleep. There will always be temporary occasions where you will have short term sleep disruptions like overnight traveling, an epic concert, having a newborn or being sick. But I still attest to the fact that great sleep is underrated and far too many Americans live over-caffeinated lives based on chronic sleep deficits. People, even successful or wealthy individuals, still may not have the simple skill or lifestyle to enjoy a fully restful evening. It takes work, but examining every area of your life, and working to resolve and remove the issue, will lead to not only better sleep but a much better life overall.
Finally, I like using sleep as a measurable tool to overall life quality. Think for a minute about your life and how it has changed. Do you have more stress in your life now? What about five years ago? Five years from now? Are you healthier now? Is your marriage stronger or more fragile than it was 3 years ago? Do you sleep better now or in the past? What can you do to make a change? Do you have unresolved spiritual or lingering ethical issues that abound? I think living an awesome life is simply way too important to pass up. And the sleep test can be a useful tool to help determine what areas of your life could use some work. If you want to know how someone is really doing, ask if they are able to sleep restfully through the night. Sleep, the incredible tool for measuring the good life.