Why is Sleep Important?

This question deserves much more time and energy than I can give it. I cannot stress enough the idea that sleeping is the elixir of life. It is the most important pillar of a healthy and prosperous life. Every single system in the body is affected by sleep. EVERY SINGLE ONE.

The first reason sleep is important and maybe the most critical one…sleep is the time in which our body gets better at everything we do. The brain identifies areas of weakness and reorients them. If we are trying to learn a new behavior, our body recognizes this and puts resources into learning the behavior. During sleep, our brain processes problems 20x faster than when we are awake.

Now, let’s talk diet! Regardless of your diet goals, sleep is vital for keeping your body running at an optimal level. Sleep is involved in fat loss, digestion, hunger, and even insulin sensitivity. When we are sleep deprived, 70% of the weight we lose comes from our muscle; the body chooses to store fat because it is a more efficient energy source. Our digestive system slows down, and we become more sensitive to insulin spikes, which leads to the body storing more fat cells. When we are sleep deprived, the body increases production of a hormone called ghrelin and decreases the production of leptin. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells us that we are hungry and leptin is responsible for inhibiting hunger. Which means we are lead to eat more food and feel less full.

Mood or emotional well being is handled partly by REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep or otherwise known as dream sleep. During REM, the prefrontal cortex of our brain shuts off. This is the “prison guard” of the brain, it regulates between rational and irrational thought processes. During REM  sleep, our brain can take memories and sort through them without the guidance of rational thought. This is where the idea “sleep on a problem” comes from or as the French like to say “sleep with a problem.”

Lastly, it’s important to consider recovery and performance, whether it be physical or mental. To operate at an optimum level, we must recharge our batteries and let our body recovery with quality sleep. During non-REM sleep is when our physical bodies are given the time necessary to recover. This is a time for body and metabolism replenishment. Sleep deprivation turns on genes that signal inflammation in the body and turns off genes that inhibit inflammation. As a result, our immune system suffers. We are more likely to get sick, we have less energy, and our decision making becomes affected. Another feature that sleep provides is this sort of sewage system for the brain. Our brain builds up sticky toxic proteins that slow down processing. Sleep is the time for our brain to clean out all these sticky proteins. It is a time for a brain to get a proper cleansing. If we are sleep deprived this process does not happen which leads to that worsening feeling of brain fog.

4 Tips to Help You Sleep Better


Establish a regular sleep schedule. That means go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even weekends). If you stay up late the night before, still wake up at your regularly scheduled time the next morning and accept that it will be a rough day. In times like these, it is ok to go to sleep a little earlier than your regular time. A quick note on regularity, it is safer to always wake up at your regularly scheduled time rather than sleep in to offset going to bed late.


Our bodies sleep better in the cold. The ideal temperature for your room is 65 degrees. The brain needs to drop a few degrees below our average body temperature to prepare for sleep. The key here is helping your body lower its core temperature. A quick hack for decreasing core body temperature is to take a hot bath right before bed. When we rapidly heat our bodies we have a rapid cooling process immediately after, its this cooling process that makes you feel sleepy, not the hot bath.

Decrease Exposure to Light

Blue light, yellow light, red light, green light, ALL LIGHTS! We have all heard stop looking at your phone, tablets, and computers before bed because of the BLUE light. I am here to tell you that it is ALL LIGHT that affects sleep. Minimize your exposure to all light at least an hour before bed. Remove all the light in your room. The most beneficial way to sleep is in complete darkness.

Walk it Out

If you are having trouble falling asleep after you have gotten in bed, wait 30 minutes and then get out of bed don’t continue to lay there tossing and turning. Our brains are powerful associative devices. We can train our brains to associate our beds with sleep as well as being awake. After about 30 minutes of wakefulness in bed get up and read a book (a real book, not an electronic book), do some breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga; anything that will prep your body for sleep. DO NOT eat food, read emails, play Candy Crush, or watch TV. Wait to get back into bed until you are feeling sleepy.

Myths About Sleep

Myth 1: “I only need about 5-6 hours of sleep a night.”

Most people need five sleep cycles a night. Each sleep cycle consists of REM Sleep and Non REM sleep. To complete a cycle your body and brain us go through each stage of sleep. Our sleep cycles take on average 90 minutes, so five cycles X 90 minutes = 7.5 hours of sleep. I could write an entire blog on why sleep is essential, and how dangerous to sleep deprivation is. However, for the sake of time, I will leave you with a quick fact about sleep deprivation. After one night of poor sleep, our testosterone levels drop by 20%. Men who are chronically sleep deprived have testosterone levels of a man ten years his senior. To put it another way, chronic sleep deprivation can age you by ten years.

Myth 2: “You can sleep when you are dead.”

Adopting this as a life philosophy or suggesting it to friends is straight lousy advice unless you want a short life. The scientific literature has shown that people who are chronically sleep-deprived live shorter lives. Those of you who believe sleep is a waste of time might want to reconsider your philosophy on productivity.

Myth 3: “A nightcap helps me sleep better.”

Alcohol! Those of us who drink know that having a few drinks before bed makes it easier to fall asleep. Why isn’t this a good thing? Alcohol puts us in a sedated state, not a sleep state. Alcohol inhibits our ability to reach REM sleep and causes sleep fragmentation, so we are never able to experience deep sleep fully.

By: Josh Killam, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Animal-Assisted Counseling with Rio

If you’ve stopped by Austin Family Counseling lately,  you may have noticed a new four-legged friend walking around the office with one of our therapists. This sweet pup is named Rio, and he is a therapy dog at AFC. Rio is a 2-year-old border collie with one blue eye and one brown eye (a condition called heterochromia). He is a Canine Good Citizen certified through the American Kennel Club and is a graduate of the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy at Texas State University. Rio has completed extensive training to work with clients and is always excited to meet new people. You can learn more about our certification here.

Morgan Rupe, LPC-InternRio and I work as a “canine counseling team”  to help clients grow, learn, and achieve their goals. We are certified in a therapy technique referred to as animal-assisted counseling. Animal-assisted counseling (AAC) is a goal-directed process in which a trained therapy animal works in partnership with a therapist to help clients resolve psychosocial challenges and achieve growth. AAC often involves using experiential and expressive interventions that include the therapy animal.

Besides getting to hang out with an adorable pup during a counseling session, there are many potential benefits to AAC. Benefits found in AAC research include:


  •  Decreasing depression, anxiety, and disruptive behavior (Hartwig, 2017),
  •  Increasing positive social behaviors (Trotter, Chandler, Goodwin-Bond, & Casey, 2008),
  •  Enhancing psychological health (Fine, 2006), and
  •  Increase in client motivation to participate in counseling and a sense of safety (Lange, Cox, Bernert, & Jenkins, 2006/2007).

The process of touching an animal partner can help clients regulate their body and their emotions. Clients may also develop better social and communication skills through the process of AAC. Rio offers many examples of self-regulation, communication, and emotion expression in a session that can help clients learn more about their own ways of expressing. You can learn more about AAC by visiting our FAQ.

I see my clients light up when Rio comes out to greet them in the lobby. Clients are able to form a valuable connection with another creature as they process and overcome life’s challenges. Sometimes that bond builds a little quicker when it is with a therapy dog like Rio 🙂 You can stay up to date with all of Rio’s adventures in counseling by following him on Instagram.

In future blog posts, I’ll share examples of interventions Rio, and I use with clients. Although most of my clients are children or teens, the interventions can be adapted to work with adults as well.

Let’s Talk Pride

As a cisgender, heterosexual female, I cannot relate to and/or understand what it feels like to grow up in a world where I am not accepted and granted basic human rights because I do not meet expectations to love and live my life in a way that has been outlined for me, by my family and/or society.  Though I am not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am an ally–which means I support equal civil rights, gender equality, and social movements; I love people for who they are…not for who I think they should love or how they should live their lives and express themselves.  After listening to Same Love by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Born This Way by Lady Gaga AND in celebration of Pride Month, I figured it would only be appropriate to talk about the history of Pride and what it means for so many people.

What is Pride?

According to a quick Google search, the word “pride” is defined as, “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired”.  While pride within the LGBTQ+ community means something different for each and every person, it generally relates to the general definition of “pride” in some way.  The following are just a few examples of what pride may mean to someone:

  • Love
  • Freedom
  • Visibility
  • Community
  • A celebration of diversity and authenticity
  • Equality
  • Support
The History of Pride

The LGBTQ+ community has been marginalized and discriminated against for many years.  As a result of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, etc., people were faced with acts of discrimination, violence, brutality, and have been treated as less-than-human because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression.  The history of pride and pride-related events are tied to political activism and protests. On June 28, 1969, a riot broke out at The Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village in New York. Police had been known to raid The Stonewall Inn from time to time, which they did that night.  However, on that particular evening, patrons fought back, which resulted in a 3-day riot and protest against police discrimination that ignited the beginning of the LGBTQ+ movement.

One year later, in June 1970, the first gay pride event, called the Christopher Street Liberation Day (CSLD) March was organized to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  During this event, participants were seen holding signs and banners demanding equal rights and protections. After this first CSLD March in New York, commemorative marches in other big cities, such as Los Angeles, began to occur.  Chants such as “Say it clear, say it loud.  Gay is good, gay is proud” could be heard.  It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that Pride began to resemble what it is today: a celebration of LGBTQ+ life and sexuality in addition to a political and social demonstration.

How to Celebrate Pride

Ultimately, there isn’t ONE single way to celebrate Pride.  The following are different ways to celebrate…there isn’t a right or wrong way.

  • Be an activist and ally
    • Organizations such as Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation  (GLAAD) is a great resource for anyone and everyone.  GLAAD recommends being a listener, being aware of your own biases and assumptions, and not making derogatory comments or anti-LGBTQ+ jokes.
  • Create artwork with rainbows on it
    • The original flag had 8 colors–they all had a symbolic meaning (e.g.: sex, life, healing, sunlight, nature, magic, peace, and spirit), however, since 1979, the flag has had 6 colors on it.  It has been modified at different places at different times for more inclusion (e.g.: racial inclusivity and AIDs awareness).
    • Also, it is important to note that the rainbow flag is a common representation of LGBTQ+ pride, however, there are flags specifically for transgender pride, bisexual pride, and more.
  • Teach children love & acceptance
    • A main component of celebrating Pride includes setting the example of love & acceptance of everyone.  Have age-appropriate conversations with children about: inclusiveness, identity, and love.
  • Learn about LGBTQ+ Leaders in History
    • Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Barbara Gittings, and Harvey Milk are just a few people you can start with.
  • Attend a City-Wide Pride Event
    • Whether it’s a festival or a march (or something in between), attending a pride event is a great way to show your support during Pride month.
  • Wear Inclusive Clothing  
    • Whether you’re wearing No H8 clothing or any of the garb from HRC, there are many options for inclusive clothing to purchase!
  • Host a Pride Movie Night
    • Different movies to watch include, but are not limited to: “Milk,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” and “Love, Simon”.  These films are not just entertaining & interesting to watch; they also educate viewers about the struggles people in the LGBTQ+ community face.
  • Read LGBTQ+ Literature
    • There are MANY LGBTQ+ books to choose from.  Whether you’re going to your local library or stocking up on books from Amazon, check out the following books/authors.  (Note: some books below are LGBTQ+ themed and some are written by LGBTQ+ authors).
      • Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
      • Eleanor and Hick by Susan Quinn
      • On Being Different by Merle Miller
      • Take Me With You by Andrea Gibson
      • Stung with Love by Sappho
      • Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Ultimately, it’s about accepting and loving LGBTQ+ friends and family.  Earlier I said there isn’t a right or wrong way to celebrate Pride…and while that is correct, if there is only one that you choose to do, this would be it.  Make sure your friends and family know that your love and support is unconditional, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For anyone who needs additional resources to love and accept others,  Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) is a great place to start.

Wishing everyone a Happy Pride!

Julie Burke

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzalez, LPC-S, LMFT-S

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