sneaky // sleep struggles
some thoughts on sleep, energy and wellbeing
The most painful thing is when you feel like you have the momentum to carry yourself into the late hours of the night. 1am, 2am, 3am, 4... with each hour that blasts by, time becomes increasingly irrelevant.
And then, you have to go to work.
It couldn’t be helped. You were in the zone, after all. However, to stop working when you feel like you could go much further may not be such a bad thing. Murakami felt this way about his writing, as did Ernest Hemingway. Both have previously earned literary acclaim, so maybe they had a point.
In Murakami’s memoir, he mentions that to keep going, “you have to keep up the rhythm.” The way he keeps it going is by stopping every day “right at the point where I feel I can write more.” Do that, he says, and the next day’s work becomes much easier to get into.
As for Hemingway, who Murakami references, this is what he had to say in a 1935 Esquire article “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter”:
“Always stop when you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time.”
So if you’re working late and you get a feeling of “wait, but I don’t want to stop working…” Good! Use it to your advantage and sleep.
Flipping the Switch
I’ll be the first to admit that sleeping early and consistently is something I’ve had a complicated relationship with.
"You should really sleep. It's for the strong, not the weak," I would hear from well meaning friends during late night conversations. But how??? I silently screamed.
I wasn't always like this. In high school and most of college, I'd wake up at 4:30-5am but I don't know what exactly prompted it. Maybe it was my parents lightly chiding me for scrambling to get ready in the 14 minutes before I had to get to school. But one day, I flipped a switch and waking up wasn't even a question of "if"; I just did it. My alarm went off that morning and I shot upright, I got out of bed, and I went about my day. I would get to sleep anywhere from 9:30 to 11pm, but the wake time remained consistent.
Body Keeps the Score
My body was an accomplice to keeping the rhythm going. Whenever I would try to pull an all nighter, my body would literally stop me–telling me the crook of my elbow was just comfy enough to lay my head into and just rest for a moment. Those moments were never mere moments, but hours.
Around college, uni life was much less structured. Well, less structured in that I had 20 different structures, but my wakeup times didn't need to be consistent. Classes started at 10am, 11am, 4pm. On some days, I'd have classes at 3pm or even 6pm. I was a commuter too, so in the liminal space of a gap between classes, I filled my time with several different part time jobs. I couldn't be idle, I had to earn. Earn and learn. At the end of the day, I'd come home. I looked weary. My parents could tell. They wanted better for me. They questioned if I was okay. Why was I grinding myself down over some extra units and some part time work that isn't actually giving back what I was putting into it? Well, honestly? I enjoyed it. That's life, I thought. I was good at it. Staying busy all the time, being a constant whirlwind of activity. It felt natural.
After graduating (and graduating again), I found myself back home. I've uncorked some of the stress that was lingering within me and I'm grateful for it. It’s amazing how much your body keeps the exhaustion at bay. You don’t realize how much you’ve adapted until it’s time to throttle down.
Getting back home to be with my family made me feel truly safe. I experienced my normal bout of tiredness and then a second wind exhaustion hit me hard. But it felt like a relief. I let myself sleep, I let myself recover, I let myself heal. When you stop yourself from revenge bedtime procrastination, and get proper rest and finally feel some stability, your body might reflexively understand you are capable of bearing more load, and accommodates you accordingly.
So that’s where we are now. My days are fairly busy now with either work, writing, or making YouTube videos. However, I miss the ease at which I got up in the early mornings. I’ve let my late nights creep up on me as I chased leads or curiosity but I still get my 7+ hours.
Each person has a different type of work schedule or pattern that works in their favor. Personally, I find that the early morning is the best time to work, even if the allures of the night are tempting. I feel freer in my afternoons and more satisfied. A good work out in the morning combined with a great night of sleep? That's a potent mix. The energy from those two simple things is enough to make a tangible difference in how my day goes. The great days feel better, and the bad days feel less glum. Maybe it’s time to flip the switch again.
I’d liken it all to an action potential. In order for a neuron to fire a signal to communicate with another neuron, it first has to be sufficiently stimulated and after a certain threshold is reached, it rapidly opens itself up to a flood of ions, creating a current that travels down its body, finally causing the release of chemicals that will bind to the next neuron in the chain. However, if there was not enough stimulus to reach the threshold, even if you had enough to get to 1% of the threshold, the action potential would not fire.
I wanted to note some more observations on sleep.
Sleep is an Active Choice
When you set out to have good sleep habits–your mind may try to confound you. It’s the “closed door phenomenon.”
The following situation was all too common. As my scheduled bed time arrived, I started ramping up my productivity, ramping up my energy, and any residue of tiredness accumulated throughout the day would be scrubbed out. All this...without an ounce of caffeine in my body.
I’d try to sleep and close my eyes and the thoughts would buzz louder. Music would generate, evoked from some brain activity kicking into gear. Melodies, or attempts at unique ones, would drift out as I held my eyes closed hoping that keeping them closed would force start REM sleep. It’s times like that you wish you'd have a "dream notepad" – the ability to write things down you think of when you're half asleep but can't actually get up and write it down because it'd break you out of the "sleep ritual."
Basically, protecting your sleep hours to maintain consistency is always going to be an active choice. You'll have to tell yourself that that internet rabbit-hole isn't worth exploring now or that YouTube video can wait for lunchtime tomorrow, or that the essay you're writing will still be there and you'll still be able to pick up where you left off when you wake.
I've learned it's okay to go to bed with a feeling of longing. Maybe I could test my program one more time, tweak a few lines, I think I fixed the bug. Maybe maybe maybe. There's a whole lot of maybe's involved but it's a definite that by staying up I'm losing sleep. The conscious choice of protecting sleep time becomes an unconscious one after a little while and I feel that now I’m more eager to sleep so I could fast travel through time into the morning.