Oh, the long-awaited extra hour of sleep! How I pined for it, wishing and hoping that it would indeed be and feel true. Alas, as the boys woke last Sunday morning, the usual 6:30 plea for breakfast felt much more disappointing and difficult than usual. I swear the self-adjusting clock gave a wink and a sneer as it glared 5:30 in my dark and cozy room, seemingly wishing better luck next year. Bummer.

As I think about living well, healthily and happily, I have come to believe that sleep is the most important factor in the equation. Chronic, sleep deprivation, for whatever reason, is insidious and sneaky as it reaches into every fine line of our lives. I haven’t yet mastered how to fit myself into my own very busy days. Trying to do that with virtually no sleep has created mystery where there used to be routine. I just don’t know how to enjoy regular exercise and healthy, relaxing meals when I am running from early morning to late night on imitation energy. Just this week, sick and teething children have left me with fewer than four hours total sleep on three different nights. Then, as I twirl through the following days of details, work, students, drop-offs, pick-ups, errands, meals left behind for the different babysitters & same kids, laundry blah, blah, blah, I find myself reaching for yet another comforting cup of tea, diet Pepsi, handful of high-calorie nuts, chips and hummus, unbalanced meal. What I really want, of course, is to crawl into a kid-free bed and slumber. A funny word, but one so appropriate for the sleep of my dreams.

There have been moments when I could sneak a walk outdoors or a quick trip to the club by myself; however, during those pauses I am so overwhelmed with exhaustion that I can’t imagine anything worse than trying to push my body even a whisper beyond where it is. And so I skip the exercise and reach for another caffeinated drink or quick sugar shot, when what I really need is sleep. To slow down and to savor deep, uninterrupted rest. And then to go for a great, sweaty work-out soaked with lots of water. Pure and simple.

I will figure this out. I must. So for the next week or two, I am keeping my sights on this core element of my life. If my hypothesis is correct, the sleep is the kernel for health and the exercise and healthy diet the byproducts. Rather than focus on the classes at the gym that I want to attend, the veggies that I want to enjoy and the higher energy that I want to feel flooding my system, I will just sleep whenever and however I can. Ideally, the simplicity of this shift in attention will offer permission to just stop, will calm that voice that “shoulds all over myself” and will, in the end, invite health and wellness back to my days.

And so with that, good night.