In June, I made an experiment to make time to sleep. It was a month where sleep was the priority and, in case of doubt, I chose to sleep. It’s funny, as it is the second time this year I am writing about the same topic. Not because I forgot that I wrote about it, but rather because I still don’t think it is getting the right importance.
The month of sleep
You may wonder if I dedicated June to sleep and then in July it all went to the bin. In a way yes, but that was not the intention, and I am reigning it in. The idea to dedicate a full month to sleep came to me as I read “The Happiness Project“. The author dedicates each month of the year to an area of life that she believes is important to happiness, and she starts with energy and namely sleep on the first month, because without energy and sleep, there is little more you can do. Every month she adds habits, hoping to achieve Nirvana by December. Whilst I did not decide to engage in a happiness project (it’s a thing, many people do), I did decide to take inspiration from habits and things that worked for me. I started with sleep.
I got to the end of May absolutely sleep deprived. The first part of the year went into a downward spiral in terms of sleeping hours and working late nights, for charity or work, and I got less and less rest. With that came less energy, more back pain, even less energy and the feeling that I can’t get out of the hole. I kept forcing myself to exercise, but that burst of energy generation was still insufficient to deal with the amount of rest I needed.
Easy to commit, hard to follow-through
Like any good resolution, it is easy to make a commitment, not so easy to follow through. In the beginning, I started out of need. In my holidays, I just could not cope with any less than 8 or 9 hours a day, and the evenings did not come fast enough for me to be able to sleep again. When I went back to work, I felt like this was the number 1 thing I had to maintain. And whilst I have no illusion I cannot possibly get 9 hours of sleep, I know I can make sleep a real priority.
Did you know the word priority used to be singular for a long time? It was not until the 19th century that we created a plural for the word. In any case, I digress.
It is easy to commit to such an easy to buy idea, the difficulty is in the follow-through. Because life is used to having those extra hours you don’t sleep. I was used to working for the charity every day after putting the kids to bed. Or writing. Or paying bills. Going to dinners without timing considerations. I had to re-architecture life differently. To finish work at a time that would allow me to squeeze in some charity work before dinner. Or to work less hours than usual. To schedule dinners early and be upfront that I needed to be home at a certain time. Or to just not go at all.
The power of sleep
I have written about the physical and mental benefits of sleep earlier in the year, but it was interesting how the 3 books I read in the space of 3 weeks all referred to sleep as a key part of making a difference in your life.
- In Power of Vulnerability, one of the guideposts to happiness is Play and Rest. How important it is to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol, Whilst today I am focusing on sleep, soon I hope to spend more time on figuring out play and what it means to me and my family. The importance here is put on rest, and on the ability to just be without a purpose, but sleep does fall into the rest category;
- In the Essentiaism, a full chapter is dedicated to sleep, with a concept of “protecting the asset”. I thought this was a powerful way to think about sleep. It is your #1 defence mechanism. Why are we so easy to loose it?
- In the Happiness Project, sleep was a key part of her first month to get Energy. As I read it, I asked myself the question “what can I do to get more energy”. Sleep was the first thing that came to mind.
I am not going to tell you that 1 month sleeping more was the holy grail. It is early to tell. But it allowed me to get up in the mornings and pick up my daily yoga routine again. It allow me to be in less pain through the month. To get myself more often doing exercise. Life is usually not sorted in the period of a month, even less so in what concerns our health and considering the long term sleep deprivation I have imposed on myself. However, I did feel happier in the mornings, had less trouble falling asleep, and overall had more energy.
In contrast, I have been extremely sleep deprived over July. Between 2 very ill children and some travelling, I got to the 5th day of sleeping in bouts of 2 hours in tears and complete overwhelm. My body was in shock that I was back in such state. I had trouble focusing, doing proper work. If I had doubts about the positive effect sleep had on me, I only had to watch out all the negatives when back to bad behaviour!
I used to say sleeping just takes so much time. Today, I could write the sentence with a different spin.