Mind-Body Health

Sustainability and Sleep: Protecting the Environment Within and Around You

Sustainability and Sleep: Protecting the Environment Within and Around You
In this time of COVID-19, sustainability has taken on new dimensions. We must ask ourselves: How can we sustain not only our own health but that of our loved ones, our communities, and our planet? What can we learn from the natural environment’s response to the COVID-19 crisis?

If anyone is experiencing the benefits of COVID-19 and its impact on her functionality, it just may be Mother Nature—the natural world in which we live, and which humanity stressed and mistreated (particularly over the past hundred years or so). Technological advancements and behaviors have imposed hardships on the planet and environment, the impact gaining clarity with each melting ice sheet and smog-laden skies.

Yet, with a massive and extraordinary pause from humankind’s inflictions on the environment, there are pockets of evidence of her newfound ability to breathe. Our natural world is thriving now in ways thought impossible until mankind paused its pollution and stress on the environment. Looking at this big picture of nature’s revival is a reminder for how important rest and sleep are on a smaller, individual scale.

The Natural Environment’s Revival

What remains to be seen is how the natural world will endure the post-COVID 19 pandemic and whether her rest and resuscitation can, or will, continue—and to what extent. Is this a temporary glitch? Will Mother Nature return fully to the continuation of climate change’s perils or will our behavior change gain traction, supporting the long-term sustainability of the planet?

Mother Nature seems to be speaking to humans with a warning that behaviors must change in order to coexist peacefully with the environment. We are asked to consider the relationship of the ecosystem of the Earth and that of each human inhabitant. What choices can you, and do you, as individuals and collectively, make as the future unfolds? When one is awake for more hours, we use greater amounts of resources such as food, energy, and gas, thereby taxing the environment. Our responses to these questions will impact how we survive and thrive while we also honor those who struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life. We must consider what is sustainable and what is not. We do know that insufficient rest and sleep are not sustainable for humankind.

What can each of us learn from Mother Nature as we witness her reawakening? What is this crisis asking you to wake up to, as well as to observe, about yourself and your personal choices? One truth: rest is paramount—for the environment and for you.

Your Internal Environment’s Revival

Those who are dedicated to protecting the environment—recycling plastics or refraining from using them, purchasing eco-friendly or low-emission cars, being conscious of your carbon footprint—may also be poor sleepers, burning the candle at both ends, engaged with tech devices before bedtime, and up late using the very resources we need to preserve and nourish. Think of it this way, you have an internal environment that is dependent on resources such as food and water. However, sleep is an essential resource that you may have become adept at abusing and pushing off as well as squandering its essential benefits.

While sleep is an active state, it also offers a pause as your brain, body, and spirit process, restore, and rejuvenate. When you sleep, you stop the mental and physical activity associated with your waking hours. You take a pause from using resources such as food, electricity, and gasoline, thereby supporting the environment around you. You allow yourself and nature to resuscitate.

Why You Need to Sleep Well

The functioning of your immune system—always vital, but all the more so during this time of COVID-19—is dependent on good sleep. Without a good night’s sleep, your waking hours are compromised. Your judgment, reaction time, ability to learn, and mood are less than optimal. With chronic insufficient sleep, not only is your productivity minimized but your health is at risk for myriad diseases.

Witnessing Mother Nature’s rejuvenation from just weeks of rest, think about how you feel when your sleep is good over time. During “normal” times, you may be so sleep deprived, buoyed by caffeine and stimulants, you don’t realize the impact that sleep insufficiency has on your weight, cardiovascular health, and mental health. Growing scientific research confirms the connection of sleep deprivation to increases in heart disease, depression and anxiety, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease to sleep insufficiency. Furthermore, good sleep health is crucial to a healthy functioning immune system to mitigate susceptibility to disease, all the more critical during the COVID-19 pandemic

Poor sleep may seem sustainable, but if you want to protect your health and well-being, both physical and mental, then you must take action to ensure your sleep is optimal. Start with a bedroom environment that supports good sleep. Adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, but good quality sleep is also critical.

You must protect your internal environment by prioritizing sleep during the pandemic and beyond. Embrace good sleep habits by establishing a bedtime routine and sleep-friendly habits that support falling and staying asleep for a restorative, rejuvenating night of sleep.

If you do, you will be better able to sustain your health and live fully during your waking hours. Your internal environment will function all the better and, collectively, you will support the precious environment of Mother Nature.

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.

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