Do you consider sleep to be part of your self-care regimen? Does a spinning wheel of thoughts keep you from restful sleep, or do you consciously sacrifice sleep time? If so, you are not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic with an estimated 25% of the United States population suffering from some type of sleep disturbance.

Effective self-care involves rejuvenating the body, clearing the mind, and invigorating the soul—all benefits of getting adequate sleep. As oncology nurses, we teach our patients about sleep hygiene (see sidebar), but how often do we take our own advice? 

What Research Tells Us

Research reveals a connection between inflammation, oversleeping (more than eight hours), and sleep deprivation (less than seven hours). Conclusions from a meta-analysis examining the impact of sleep-wake cycle disturbance and too much sleeping on C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels indicated that oversleeping and sleep-wake disturbance were associated with increase in CRP and IL-6, and short sleep duration produced a rise in IL-6 only. Increased serum inflammatory markers, specifically CRP and IL-6, can lead to depression, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity (Irwin, 2015).  

Another meta-analysis showed that waist circumference was greater in people who slept less than people who were normal sleepers (researchers did not define “short sleep duration” or “normal sleep”). Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are some of the risks associated with high levels of adipose tissue around the waist.

How to Practice

In addition to practicing the strategies listed in the sidebar, try this relaxation exercise recommended by the National Sleep Foundation

  1. Find a comfortable position in bed. 
  2. Focus your attention on your body, and start to notice how your body feels against the surface of your bed. 
  3. Notice any areas of physical tension or discomfort. 
  4. If your mind starts to wander to thoughts or worries, gently bring it back to your body.
  5. Start to notice where you feel your breath in your body (chest, abdomen, nostrils).
  6. Take a deep breath and feel your lower belly expand with air. 
  7. When thoughts come to mind, bring your awareness back to your body and the breath coming in and out. 
  8. After a few minutes, scan your body again for areas of tension or discomfort. Breathe into any tension and notice how the body relaxes when you let the breath out.
  9. Alternate between noticing the breath and body scanning. 

For a full description of the exercise, refer to the National Sleep Foundation.