The Art of Sleep

When we think about healthy lifestyles, we tend to focus on categories such as diet and exercise: eat better, drink less, exercise more. While all these are important, there is another component of health coming to light which may be as critical and worthy of attention: sleep.  

Sleep, as natural as breathing, has profound impact on everything from immune function, metabolism, mood, and cognition, to heart disease and cancer. Our body, freed from the more immediate needs of the present, can focus on key internal processes such as detoxification, hormone regulation and immune repair.

Similarly, during sleep, our brain can process the complex events of our lives, leading to creative breakthroughs or revelations otherwise inaccessible to the waking mind. 

Throughout the ages, cultures have recognized the importance of sleep and developed methods, from Native American dream catchers to herbal remedies, for  protecting and capturing its value. 

In today’s urban environments, new forms of sleep protection may be required. We face increased light and electro-pollution from our electrified landscapes, both of which are shown to disrupt melatonin levels, alter brain wave activity, and cause a stress response in the body. Mobile devices have become “sleep stealers,” as Russell A. Sanna, Harvard’s director of sleep medicine points out, erasing the boundaries between home, social life and work, and bringing distraction and stress into the bedroom.

With an appreciation for both the scientific and cultural value of sleep, we must restore these everyday boundaries and protect this sacred time.  

 Sophia Pompéry, Lighting Up, Burning Down, 2009

Sophia Pompéry, Lighting Up, Burning Down, 2009

It is important to remember that not all sleep is created equal. 

Working in front of bright screens or consuming emails before bed mis-signals to the body that it is still daytime, delaying the release of melatonin and triggering stress hormones instead.

Alternatively, inward-focused exercises, such as breathing, meditation or reading, increase melatonin and reduce cortisol levels, inducing deeper, longer states of slow wave and REM sleep

How we wake and transition into the day is also important. Most Americans report grabbing their phone first thing in the morning, disrupting the half-waking state where dreams are still recalled and thoughts retain their soft edges. It is in this state where we can clarify and arrange our thoughts and intentions for the day, before exposing ourselves to outside media. 

If we think of sleep as a daily ritual, like exercise, cooking or drawing, it requires conscious preparation and closing — not simply for health reasons, but as a celebration of artful living.