Sleep for a Better Life
Sleep deprivation is ugly. It’s more than a vague sense of tiredness. In my experience, the body falls into a constant state of stress. It starts with fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Recurring thoughts of sleep interrupt the day. The heartbeat becomes fast and loud for no discernible reason. Then ulcers form in the mouth. If left long enough, the exhaustion becomes a source of pain that cruelly prevents sleep.
That said, it’s usually stress that kicks off this chain reaction. In the weeks before I bought and moved into my new home, I was both excited and anxious. The stakes I was moments away from escaping the tyranny of rent and living with strangers. But there were negotiations to conclude, utilities to connect, and belongings to move. As I mentally navigated this minefield, sleep just slipped away from me.
What followed was unpleasant. I struggled to enjoy being at work, which I normally found stimulating and fun. Instead, I simply pressed ahead. Greeting me at home were chores left undone and a dinner yet to be cooked. Even after muscling through these obstacles, I resisted sleep. I was still fixated on all the key dates and events for my big move. After another night of truncated sleep, I barely had the strength to do it all again.
Eventually, I settled into my new home and caught up on my sleep. Looking back, it’s clear I didn’t need to stay up so many nights. Everything arrived safely, and anything left undone just wasn’t that urgent. The stove and fridge worked — I was going to be okay. And if I’d been refreshed in the previous weeks, I’m sure everything would’ve been done anyway.
Sleep deprivation is common
Losing sleep can feel like a normal part of life. I’ve often heard remarks like, ‘I didn’t use to drink coffee before I started law school’ and ‘If you want to be successful, something’s got to give’. The pressure to perform means we sometimes give up our sleep to meet deadlines and keep up with others who are willing to do the same.
But sometimes we just lose sleep because we just don’t see the harm in it. I know I used to abuse the lack of enforced bedtime when I was a teenager — the YouTube binge was my poison of choice. Social media is addictive by design, and it’s no surprise many of us sink hours of prime sleeping time with our eyes glued to the screen.
Sleep deprivation destroys your body and mind
When I lose sleep for more than a night, I felt like my body is disintegrating. And science is on my side — sleep deprivation increases pain sensitivity. Longer-term physical effects include weight gain and even increased risk of death from all sources.
Mentally, the usual suspects are reduced alertness and impaired memory. Perhaps more alarming is the strong link between insomnia and depression. Sleep deprivation also affects judgment, even clouding our perception of how sleep deprivation itself affects our lives! The combination of pain and altered judgment can entrench a pattern of insomnia that keeps wreaking havoc in our lives.
Good sleep is almost a superpower
My personal sign of a good life is waking up feeling refreshed. There’s nothing more motivating than knowing I can take on the day ahead, go to sleep and take on the next day. Life is busy. I plan each day when it starts so I don’t get flustered, and it’s much easier to do that when I don’t have to wait for the caffeine to kick in.
It’s clear that sleep deprivation chews right through any time you might save by staying up. No matter how much time I spent on detailed plans for my new home, I just didn’t have the energy to follow through. It would’ve been better for me to rest up, plan soberly, and deal with challenges as they arose.
The benefits of sleep are basically the inverse of sleep deprivation’s disadvantages. With good sleep comes better metabolism, memory, and mood. For me, there’s the independent benefit of knowing I can eventually beat insomnia. It’s why I can do a full day of work, attend to my home life, and still have time to write.
A full night’s sleep is a mundane productivity hack, and it’s why we miss it. I know in my sleepless frenzies; I rack my brain, trying to work out how to boost my vanishing efficiency. Even when I’m well-rested, a looming deadline can make me forget the tools at my disposal. But now that I’ve tasted the sweet relief of sleep, I’ve reverted to my younger years and imposed a strict bedtime on myself.
Good sleep is within reach
Even after resolving to sleep well, it’s not always so easy. If sleep deprivation is a common feature in our lives, there’s usually something in our daily routines that interferes with sleep. Fortunately, there are some straightforward steps to achieving good sleep.
My favorite is exercise. Although a simple jog around my block consistently exhausts me, it introduces a painless source of tiredness by nightfall. Just 30 minutes of aerobic activity is enough to improve sleep for the same night. This level of exercise coincidentally helps boost mood and promote weight loss.
Consistent times for sleeping and waking are also key. It’s important to keep these times even on weekends and vacations. The half-hour before bed is best reserved for night-time rituals. I shut off my electronics and write in my journals. Eventually, the body naturally expects to sleep and rise at the desired times.
Go forth and sleep
Sleep is an essential element of a happy and productive life. As tempting as it is to exchange sleep for time, the stress and pain just aren’t worth it. Instead, make the most of your waking hours by starting the day well-rested and motivated. Make sleep your secret weapon.