Sleep Is More Important Than Self-Improvement

Prepare to be wowed with some scientific claims of dubious validity. Well, there is some real science, and then some additional thoughts from me. Full disclosure: I am not a scientist.

These thoughts were prompted in part by Jen Louden’s Freedom from Self-Improvement Week.

Last weekend I watched an episode of Nova Science NOW on PBS. There was a segment about sleep, and its connection to memory. (You can watch the full segment here.)

We still don’t know the true purpose of sleep, but nearly all organisms sleep in some form.

Scientists are finding that there is a connection between sleep and memory.

And what is memory? Or, rather, what does memory allow us to do? Learn.

Remember that thing that happens after playing Tetris, where you keep seeing the pieces fall when you close your eyes to go to sleep? That is part of your brain’s way of learning how to play the game better.

Scientists (which ones? I didn’t bother to write down their names…you know, they) are also able to watch brain activity in rats as they learn how to navigate a maze.

That exact sequence of brain activity is later observed while the rats sleep, as though the brain is replaying the memories so that the rat can learn to navigate the maze more efficiently.

And then there’s the old adage of “sleeping on” a problem. You’re trying to work through something but you can’t come up with a solution, so you decide to sleep on it.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve woken up to solutions quite a few times over the years.

Ready to make some not-so-solid logical leaps with me?

What if this process of integrating knowledge, or transferring memories from short-term to long-term, or whatever you want to call it – this brain magic – wasn’t limited to actual sleep?

What if it applied to relaxing, too? Or even having fun? Or general hanging-out?

Does science back this up? I doubt it, but I don’t care.

What does this have to do with Freedom from Self-Improvement?

The idea behind Jen’s Freedom from Self-Improvement Week is that we are wonderful and loveable, just as we are.

And that we don’t always have to be striving to Get Better or Be Better or Do More. We have nothing to prove. We are who we are – beautifully.

And here is where my thoughts begin to fall apart just a little

What I would like to suggest is that giving ourselves permission to Just Be is the very thing that will allow us to…

To what?

Well, maybe this kind of goes against the spirit of Freedom from Self-Improvement Week.

But what I was going to say was…

Giving ourselves permission to sleep and relax and Just Be is the very thing that will allow us to make the improvements we want to make.

And here’s why I think this still fits with Freedom from Self-Improvement

Yes, you could argue that if we’re really fine the way we are, we shouldn’t want or need to make any improvements.

Here’s my answer to that:

Am I loveable just the way I am? Yes.
Do I have patterns in my life that are uncomfortable for me? Yes.
Do I want to replace some of those patterns with ones that are more nourishing? Yes.
Can I learn to work on my patterns in more compassionate ways? Yes.
Does that compassion sometimes involve choosing not to work on my patterns? Yes.

The point

Self-improvement becomes excruciating when we don’t acknowledge our need for Rest.

Our brains need to sleep in order to learn and function more efficiently.

I believe our Selves are no different. We need periods of not trying to improve in order to integrate what we’ve learned thus far in our self-improvement efforts.

Yin and yang, push and pull, work and rest. We need both sides of the equation to maintain balance.

Granting ourselves freedom from self-improvement is, paradoxically, like a more enlightened form of self-improvement.

Rather than suppressing who we are, it makes space for change that can come from a place of honoring who we are, just as we are.

19 thoughts on “Sleep Is More Important Than Self-Improvement

  1. Heidi Fischbach

    Oh Victoria, this is awesome. I love where you went with this. Self-improvement is such a slippery, funny thing, isn’t it? When I come at something I want to change from a place of white-knuckled-i-must-fix-that-i-suck, it *might* work in some way but it always seems to backfire. Plus it feels so mean. Awareness of patterns and kindness and listening and understanding and yes, fun and rest and play, seem to work much better. Plus they feel so darned good. Recently it was pointed out to me that I am very good at introspecting but not so good at play. The person that said it really loves me and it was not said meanly at all. I listened. Now I’m scratching my head about how to play. Ideas? How do you play? Oh and, I love playing with you on twitter. Wheeee, punnnnnns, wheeeee!
    .-= Heidi Fischbach´s last blog ..T.S. Eliot helps this Mexican jumping bean get to essential. =-.

  2. Gina

    Indeed, Victoria. I received a number of comments along these lines in response to my post about this being self improvement month. What’s to improve? We are perfect as we are in our imperfection, are we not? Self-improvement maybe can be seen as an optional hobby .. do it if it brings you joy, but not as a prerequisite.

    And sleep. Yes. My oldest son has been telling me about DMT.. a chemical released by the pineal gland when we go to sleep that causes us to dream. Also thought to be the chemical that causes us to perceive of a God. It floods our brain when we are dying and thought to be what creates the “light at the end of the tunnel” vision. Anyway… dreaming is also necessary to our memory and filing system.. and I, too, have wondered if this response can be stimulated by the kind of relaxation that comes with massage.
    .-= Gina´s last blog ..And It’s Not Just About Stuff =-.

  3. Bridget Pilloud

    I love this line from you:

    We need periods of not trying to improve in order to integrate what we’ve learned thus far in our self-improvement efforts.

    This is so true.

    And also…
    I love sleep.
    From an energetic perspective, sleep is a time when our energy system reintegrates itself. It’s also when our intuition is closest to our conscious mind.
    With enough sleep, we’re able to have more inspired thought, because we are more in-tune with intuition.
    This is also true for any tactile meditative activity like… knitting, making pastry, hiking, doing dishes, etc.
    .-= Bridget Pilloud´s last blog ..My Sept. 11 post- =-.

  4. Grace

    Always being and always becoming.

    Everything is perfect exactly as it is, and there’s always room for improvement. (That’s a highly-paraphrased quote from a sage whose name I cannot remember. So much for proper attribution!)

    Self improvement – bah! I’m not a project, and nor is anyone else. There’s nothing to fix. Everyone is already and always whole.

    Thank you, Victoria. This is a great post!
    .-= Grace´s last blog ..Manufacturing authenticity =-.

  5. Victoria Post author

    @Heidi – Oh my goodness – I can so relate to the “good at introspection, bad at play” thing. I am *horrible* at play and am trying to learn how to do it. Even the things I attempt as forms of play, I manage to turn into self-improvement tactics, or business opportunities, or some regimented thing to work on. I gotta say, Twitter is the only thing I’ve managed to keep playful. I’ll have to ponder that some more, to see if I can come up with a few things. Hiking comes to mind, but that’s about it for now.

    @Gina – I’ll definitely have to geek out a little and look up DMT. The brain is so freaking amazing, isn’t it? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if massage-induced relaxation caused the same response.

    @Bridget – Love what you said: “sleep is a time when our energy system reintegrates itself”. I imagine this great shuffling around of memories and information – including energy-level info.

    @Grace – Paraphrased or not, with or without attribution, I love your version of it!

  6. Dorian aka coffeesister |_|)

    As an advocate of rest as well as someone who makes that choice again each day to be my best self, this post’s title caught my eye (on Twitter of course ~_^ via @HiroBoga). I not only agree w/your postulation that rest, relaxation & play are as important as sleep but am living proof. Various health issues have left me w/extreme fatigue as well as insomnia which, as you can imagine, do not play well together. Nor do they rest well together. ~_~ What they have forced enabled me to discover is that it’s the stopping, the setting aside of everything, that matters. Sleep will come as it’s needed (& it IS needed) but slowing down — mentally as much as physically — is what makes way for physical necessities like sleep & mental necessities like balance. Finally, sleep does far more than restore our energy, it’s when & how our bodies regenerate. It may not be as evident to someone healthier than I but rest & especially sleep are what give my body a chance to fight back; it’s not a coincidence you’re more tired when sick. Wishing us all a good sleep soon -_- & plenty of restful fun leading up to it..

    “Taking time to rest improves the rest of our time.” ~ Dorian Rhodes (from my post, To rest, perchance to live:)
    .-= Dorian aka coffeesister |_|)´s last blog ..Latest Quotationary =-.

  7. Michelle Russell

    What a beautifully expresses post, Victoria! The irony for us self-improvement addicts is that if we’re not VERY careful, “Just Being” turns into yet another way to torture ourselves about how we’re not doing it well enough. Oh, the tightrope-thin line!

    I’m with you and Heidi on the “good at introspection, bad at play” thing. Hmm–a thought. You know how Julia Cameron talks about taking yourself on Artist Dates? What about deliberately scheduling some Play Dates with ourselves?

    Of course we’d have to keep from getting all rigid and have-to about that, too. :)
    .-= Michelle Russell´s last blog ..To-Do List Series #2 – Category Creation =-.

  8. Barbara Martin

    So many people are chronically sleep-deprived, it makes sense to me that getting a little extra shuteye would do us all a world of good. Not just for clarity but also for mood and general sense of well-being. And play, play is essential. Now I reckon play can be sort of undirected, or directed — as long as it is an in the moment and absorbing enjoyable activity that gets you out of your head. Now you can call this an Artist Date as Cameron does, or you can call it recreational time, or you can call it feeding your soul or any label you like. But, note that this “play” is an activity which means you have to get up and DO something rather than just think about it. Taking that step, taking action, actively doing something, is half the battle to moving forward in general, it’s right there. You start building a little momentum. And you get a mental break. And it carries over. Or at least I think so. :) And anyway, we all take so much so seriously including ourselves. I like a little levity now and then or preferably a lot. Laughing is good for you, too. Oxygenating and all that stuff. Anyhoo, enjoyed this post and looking forward to more!!

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  11. Shawna R. B. Atteberry

    Hi Victoria! I came over from today’s Wiry Frankle. I saw this NOVANow, and I wondered if my memory being what is isn’t from the years I didn’t sleep in college and seminary. I think you are right on about resting, and just taking a break and having fun. And it’s something I need to do more of. I do not play near enough and as a result take myself way too seriously. Thanks for the reminder that I really do need to rest and play.

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  13. Ken

    Hey great post,
    I certainly agree we need to rest, but when you are really motivated and determined it is hard to pull back and take a break.

    P.S. I also have gone to sleep with a problem on my mind and woke up with a solution. It is an incredible experience and the solution was always perfect.
    .-= Ken´s last blog ..Success Affirmations – Why and How =-.

  14. Natalia

    I absolutely agree.

    No sleep = a cranky Natalia who can barely keep her eyes open. No energy for self-work there!

    And I know Havi says we should be in the process *all the time*, and I love her ideas, but, jeez, that’s an awful lot of work sometimes. It’s liberating to just *be* when we need it, when we want a break, and want to just be. Have fun, stop thinking, start feeling and doing more. Awesome.

    Plus, as you said, sleep has a purpose, and it does help our memory and, I would add, concentration. Sleep is essential. Mmm sleep…
    .-= Natalia´s last blog ..Hello there! =-.

  15. Ana


    A very insightful post.

    I find that self-improvement is the tie in with sleep as we recharge ourselfs each night and that is a massive leap of improvement in itself. When we sleep our energy connects to the source, and depending on how we are before the sleep, we may either take this new energy into a new form and accept what has happened in our life experience (therefore move onto a higher consciousness), or keep repeating the same patterns/habits each day until we acknowledge that life experience, and take ourselfs to that new wave through the energy that we accept through sleep.

    Sleeping is our energy’s life lesson, a place where we create choices and resolve issues. The mirror of self-improvement.
    .-= Ana´s last blog ..Music for the Soul =-.

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