I’ve been sleeping soundly again, which is nice. Leading up to the start of the conference I was co-chairing two weeks ago, I hadn’t realized how the quantity and quality of my sleep were declining, probably because I was compensating for the effects with caffeine and adrenaline.
The night before the conference I didn’t sleep well at all, and what sleep I did get was filled with stress dreams. I made it through the day of the event largely powered by coffee and Soylent.
After it was all over, I was exhausted enough to sleep more than eight hours straight for the first time in weeks, and I awoke feeling genuinely refreshed. It made me wonder why I can’t sleep like that all the time.
It’s been clear to me for a while that there are two big factors that impact my sleep: exercise during the day and sticking to a regular bedtime. I do my best to stick to a regular, daily routine that puts me in bed at the same time every night (usually between 10:00 – 10:30) and gets me up at the same time every morning (between 5:30 – 6:00). Since I’ve built that habit I’ve been more aware of its impact on my mental energy levels during the day, too. For example, I’m now aware of how little I can do after 4pm effectively, so I am sure to do my most important creative work earlier in the day. Mental energy is too far gone without a reset away from what I’ve been doing all day.
I’ve thought of trying other sleep routines. I’d been intrigued by the idea of polyphasic sleep, which breaks the sleep schedule into smaller chunks throughout the day. Akshat Rothi recently published a story about his personal experiments with this for Quartz that provides a helpful look at both the benefits and the pitfalls of making what is, in many ways, an engineering approach to sleep efficiency. Unfortunately, it seems the only ones who have ever been able to actually sustain such a schedule are those who live and work largely independently of the rest of the world. Unless you are eccentric or maniacal or influential enough to force those around you to conform to your polyphasic schedule, you experience the world from a bubble that is constantly out of phase with everyone else. And as Rothi found in his experiment, that’s a lonely place to live for too long.
Still, I’m open to experimenting, and truth be told I’ve had more than one day in my life where I realized the best thing I could do was close my office door and nap for 20 minutes. Just as I often find my mid-day cardio break at the gym can revive my body, a brief downtime with eyes shut revives my mind.
The important thing is just to pay attention to what our bodies need, and not ignore it. But that takes time to understand, and it’s something that changes as we get older and adapt to new environments. And there will always be factors we can’t control that affect how much sleep we get – living with a roommate/partner/spouse, with kids or pets, or even just noisy neighbors – all affect how well we can sleep. The important thing is to listen to your body and make it okay to choose sleep if that’s what your body tells you it needs.
Ultimately the best way I can get the sleep I need at night is to earn it during the day. The nights I sleep best, most soundly, are the after days when I’ve had a good amount of physical exercise, I’ve worked well, I’m not stressed by my day, and I eat and drink moderately.
In other words, I try to go to bed happy. According to Leonardo Da Vinci, “a well spent day brings happy sleep.” Work hard, play hard, and sleep well.