Sleep is largely underrated. We tend to think of it as just another bodily need without truly appreciating the tremendous nourishment that our bodies and souls get from a good night of sleep. Even more important than a single night is the ability to consistently sleep well over the course of a lifetime, and much of that ability has to do with understanding exactly how much nourishment sleep provides, and appreciating the difference that it can make. By switching our understanding of sleep as some sort of obligation to recognizing it as doing something nurturing and strengthening, we change our entire perspective, and find ourselves looking forward to the gift that it provides us each night. Native tribes such as the Huichols, said to be the last of the Indian cultures to continue their pre-Columbian tradition, believe that when we fall asleep each night our souls go to a place of power and we go through a nightly healing and strengthening. You don’t have to adhere to this belief system to understand that there are physiological changes that occur on the nights that we sleep well that provide us with renewed strength, and that failing to get the proper amount of sleep can do the exact opposite. For example, not getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night makes our bodies release the stress hormone cortisol, which can work against our ability to burn fat. We also lose our ability to produce the appropriate amounts of human growth hormone, the chemical that we need in order to regenerate and heal muscle tissue. Scientists have shown that lack of sleep speeds up the aging process because the constant stress that it puts us under interrupts the natural healing process that would otherwise occur each night. Sleeplessness even impacts our immune system, leaving us low in our levels of DHEA, which helps fight disease. In addition to all of these internal mechanisms that go awry, lack of sleep has a profound impact on our energy levels and our natural cycle throughout the day. We are supposed to feel energetic during all of our waking hours, and not begin to feel drowsy until the sun goes down and it is time for us to go to sleep, but an interrupted or inadequate amount of sleep at night leaves us sluggish in the middle of the day, and may leave us feeling overly alert at night when it’s time to go to bed. If you prioritize sleep and make sure that you are doing everything possible to support it, you will quickly find yourself feeling better overall, with higher energy levels and in improved health and mindset.