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  • Writer's pictureKeon Tavakoli

Counting Sheep: Medicine for the Mind

Sleep is one of the most crucial functions performed by the human body. It is also one of the most neglected. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, the recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7.5-8.5 hours each night. According to a poll conducted by the Sleep Foundation, 35.2% of adults report sleeping an average of less than 7 hours a night. The dangers of this discrepancy go far beyond simply “feeling tired” — consistent sleep deprivation can also be associated with high blood pressure, lowered immunity, increased risk of diabetes or heart attacks, and depression. Of course, lack of sleep is also problematic in the short term, leading to lack of alertness, excessive daytime sleepiness, and mood swings. These symptoms of sleep neglect, outlined by the Cleveland Clinic, not only demonstrate the discomfort of lost shuteye, but also its dangers.

Sleep ought to be treated like a medicine, to be taken in full dosage once daily. Reducing the amount of sleep hinders the mind’s ability to reset, and the body’s ability to recover. While sleeping, cortisol levels lower, decreasing stress; cytokines are released by the immune system, helping the body to fight infection and trauma; and the brain is allowed to process the day’s events, creating long term memories. There are four stages of each sleep cycle, with non-REM (rapid eye movement) comprising stages one through three, and REM sleep taking place only during the fourth stage. REM sleep is the most critical of these stages, as the heightened brain activity contributes to emotional processing and overall brain health. Each cycle lasts roughly 90 minutes, and optimally, the body will undergo 4-6 cycles every night.

Quality of sleep is just as important as quantity — maximizing the effectiveness of these sleep cycles increases the potency of sleep. One method for increasing sleep quality is simply allowing time for the body to prepare for bed — that means turning off stimulating electronic devices at least an hour before sleeping. Adopting a consistent nighttime routine (brushing teeth, reading, journaling, etc.) can also prove beneficial.

Some view sleep as an inconvenience. That frame of thinking is as inaccurate as it is dangerous. Sleep is the foundation of health, both mental and physical; without adequate sleep, one cannot hope to perform daily tasks to the best of their abilities. Why stay up an extra hour trying to accomplish something only to end up doing it both poorly and inefficiently? Go to sleep, recover, then finish it more efficiently and effectively in the morning. Make time for counting sheep, it’s the best medicine.

Works Cited

“Assess Your Sleep Needs.” Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School,

“Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep (and How Much You Really Need a Night).” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, 25 Mar. 2022,,function%20and%20lower%20sex%20drive.

Suni, Eric. “Sleep Statistics - Facts and Data About Sleep.” Sleep Foundation, 13 May 2022,

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