and now a few words about sleep

Monday, March 5, 2012

Among the many things I wish I had more natural talent for is sleep.  I have lived long intervals (months, even) living on an hour or two a night.  I have operated in the danger zone—exhausted at work, too tired to drive, not precisely paying attention when walking through a door. 

You can only go on so long like that.  At one point, sleep deprivation defeats you.

A few months ago I voted against defeat.  I would teach myself to sleep, I vowed, if it was the last thing I did.  I didn't want it to be the last thing I did. 

Sleeping more (or trying to sleep more) would mean a lot of things.  Whereas I had, for decades, squeezed two days worth of work into most every day, I'd have to learn to hold myself back.  To make fewer promises.  To say yes to fewer things.  To work at a slower clip.  Fewer corporate projects, then, fewer book reviews, fewer guest appearances, fewer yeses, fewer emails, a diminished presence in the Land of Blog, three days a week at the gym instead of four, and never the 5:30 AM Zumba call, and maybe I'd dust less often and also, I'd do more cooking with a Crock Pot—making two meals at a time instead of one.

Simple stuff. 

Harder stuff:  Staying in bed when I wasn't sleeping.  Keeping my heart beat down.  Talking myself out of giving up.  You can't invoice for sleep and it doesn't put you on the bestseller list and when you have to increasingly say no to "pick your brain" invitations, it doesn't earn you any new friends. 

Perseverance, I knew, would be everything, and for the past six months, I persevered.  No matter what else was happening I fought toward my own personal goal—at least five hours of sleep each night. 

In time (but yes, I struggled) things changed.  I wasn't nearly as on edge.  I was far more patient.  For better or worse I grew more honest in my exchanges, more clear in my priorities, more focused during the hours that I was working, more open to new ideas in both my books and my teaching, less inclined to fall asleep (for a dead-to-the-world fifteen minutes) watching the 9 PM show.  I didn't feel as brittle inside.  I had more hope, more capacity within.  I danced better, walked farther, thought more clearly, did not cede to the unconsidered impulse.

Last night, I had my father for dinner—a Crock Pot meal.  When he was leaving I told him that I'd been working on sleep.  "I can tell," he said.  "I can tell just by looking."

A victory, then.  Far from defeat.


Melissa Sarno said...

This makes me happy. I used to be a champion sleeper but in recent years sleep has been a work in progress for me too. I believe we will be victorious!

Serena said...

I'm so glad to hear it. Like you I need more practice sleeping, though harder to do with a little one in the house

Kimberley Griffiths Little said...

I honestly don't know how you survive! I've always been a very light sleeper and wake up constantly but I could never live on only 1-2 hours a night. How did you stay healthy? I get sick after awhile.

Also, I'm curious to know what you mean by "pick your brain" invitations?

The past year or two I feel like everyone wants a piece of me and yes, it is so hard to say no so I run around like a maniac and constantly feel frazzled and behind on my To Do list. It is no way to live. I'm starting to really resent it.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Good for you. I'm a champion sleeper (sounds goofy, but it's true), and I know how poorly I function without enough sleep.

It doesn't produce bestsellers, but it contributes to the most healthy, happy you.

Becca said...

Sleep is CRUCIAL. I cannot tell you how much it worried me that you didn’t sleep. I would read those blog posts where you mentioned sleeping only an hour or two, or where you talked of being up writing at 3 or 4 am on a regular basis, and just shudder with fear at what that was doing to you.

I am sighing a big sigh of relief that you have learned to sleep a little bit. Even if means I have a few less words of yours to read, I will accept it because you will be healthier and happier in the long run.

Sweet dreams :)

Beth F said...

I need to take some lessons from you now that I've added two more prongs to my freelance life. I can't seem to drop my "sure, I can do that" attitude.

Sarah Laurence said...

My best advice as a former now only occasional insomniac: no screen time after dinner. Read a book in the tub instead but not too close to bedtime. Get outdoor daylight and exercise every day. Get a dog if that will force you out the door. Pets lower your heart rate. Make sure you take at least one weekend day off from work.

Mandy King said...

I'm the opposite - I still sleep as if I were a teenager. Which is sometimes wonderful (in hotel rooms and strange beds) and sometimes not (when I wake up at noon on a Saturday and realize half of my weekend has been slept away). How bout I give you a little of my sleep and you give me a little of your awakeness? We can meet in the middle. :)

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