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Friday
Jun012012

Sleep

I drafted this post in a fog, having slept only a few hours the night before due to a neck crick that a previous night's sleep gave me combined with too much sugar. (Isn't my life exciting?)

These aren't bragging rights. But often sleeplessness is, particularly among business types. I have a friend who was recently ill with something that took him a few months to get over completely. How did he tell me he knew he was back to his "old self?" He'd built back the stamina needed to get only four hours of sleep a night. He's too busy to sleep more than that. Other executives "complain" over lunch about how little sleep they get each night, they're just so inundated with work. I'm sure I'm not alone in often hearing the expression,

"You sleep when you die."

Yeah, well, you're going to die faster that way. Research continues to pile up on the mental and physical benefits of a full night’s sleep. Not only does sleep help us learn better and think better, it helps our bodies ward off disease and helps manage our diet and weight. (Here’s a quickie summary of the connections between sleep and health, via Harvard Medical School.)

Seems like there are very few other poor lifestyle choices that we brag about with so much pride or feel so guilty about not experiencing. I don't brag about eating too many cookies in an evening. (There's a reason my trainer calls me "Cookie Monster." And there's a reason I didn’t sleep very well the night before I drafted this essay.) Also, I don't feel guilty for not drinking too much when I hear about a nasty hangover.

I get it: No sleep for the cause of a high-powered career seems hard core. Committed. Dedicated. All those qualities we praise business people for having.

But can't we manifest those qualities in some other, less health-damaging way? Can't we begin to see that a commitment to getting a full night’s sleep, so that a person can perform better, is a different kind of dedication to the career cause?

I resolved early in the year to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. I’m not always succeeding, but it’s a target. Frankly, I’m sharper and more highly functional on a solid eight hours of sleep—and I need even more than eight hours when life is particularly stressful or I’m running more miles at a higher intensity.

Also, I clock in at a lighter weight on the scale when I'm sleeping more, too. (How's that for motivation?) Maybe it's the cycle of sleeping better, so I need fewer cookies, which helps me sleep better… And so on.

Yes, I realize there aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done, especially if a person sleeps seven or eight hours a night. To get my seven hours, I have to sacrifice things that I'd really like to do. Sometimes, that's a bummer. But I can choose what to keep and what to give up. Most of what I give up isn't all that rewarding, anyway. (How much television are you watching, hmm?) And it's a worthwhile trade to give up a few less worthy things so that I can enjoy the important stuff all that much more.

Lil' ol' me conscientiously objecting isn't going to change an entire culture built on extolling the virtues of exhaustion. But I do invite you to enjoy me. And maybe if you invite someone, and they invite someone, and so on, we'll start a little movement. You in?

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Reader Comments (2)

When I was twenty I studied at the university library until 4 AM, walked home across the polo fields, fell asleep on the couch, woke up at 730 AM, ran back to the university to take a final test, and aced it.

When I was 28 I basically locked myself in my office and stayed up working on a project three days straight until it was done and then celebrated with a weekend of non stop club hopping.

Last weekend I went out into the middle of nowhere to watch shooting stars until 1AM. The next day I woke up in a daze and was half asleep till Monday.

To everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn). We do these things when we are young because we can and because we have to. Mostly because we can.

My old mantra for the weekends used to be to pack as much "fun" as possible into those two days as was humanly possible. I find that I prize sleep more these days than I would going to some club until closing time. The thought of catching up on sleep on the weekends is highly appealing these days.

August 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

True, William! Somehow, once upon a time, sleep didn't seem to be all that important. Or, rather than assume it's age related, I'd say that sometimes, even now, whether due to excitement or just adrenaline, we don't need to sleep as much as we usually do in some sort of preternatural fashion. But those time should be limited, and for good reason: health and well-being. I'll take my sleep over franticness any day!

August 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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