As part of v52 of me, I’ve decided to commit to at least eight hours of sleep a night. I’m doing ok, but need to keep working at it.
From my early 20s, until v47, I woke up at 5 am from Monday to Friday. I’d then binge sleep on the weekend, often sleeping 12+ hours on Saturday or Sunday (my record is just under 16 hours of sleep.) When I had a major depressive episode early in v47, I stopped waking up with an alarm clock. For the next six months, I slept over 10 hours a night (often more than 12), every night.
I was extraordinarily sleep deprived. I knew it was bad for me on multiple dimensions, especially my mental health, so since then, I’ve slept until I woke up naturally each morning. Amy and I go to bed early – usually between 9 and 10 pm, so I’m still up between 6 and 7 am on most days.
Several friends, who know I both love to sleep and am intrigued with how sleep works, recommended that I read Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. It was excellent. While my self-assessment of my sleep habits are very positive, I learned a few things. More importantly, I now have a much better understanding of the “Why” surrounding sleep, especially around sleep’s importance to a healthy and long life.
There are a number of things that I’ve done in the past few years that have dramatically improved my sleep. In addition to eliminating alarm clocks from my life, I stopped taking sleep aids (Advil PM, Ambien) except for helping me reset on international travel (and, after reading this book, I’m going to give Melatonin a try for this situation.) I’ve stopped drinking alcohol. I don’t drink any caffeine after noon (and rarely more than one cup of coffee a day.) I take regular afternoon naps – almost every Saturday and Sunday and whenever I’m on vacation. Our bedroom is pitch black and 65 degrees. I started using a Resmed CPAP machine several years ago (I have a mild sleep apnea). I don’t read or watch TV in bed. Finally, a few months before v52, I stopped drinking fluids after 7 pm and have been skipping dinner several nights a week.
While reading this book, I realized how messed up our societal norms are around sleep. Kids needing to get up early in the morning to get to school by 7:30 am is insanity. ADHD drugs, especially in children, is basically doing the exact opposite of what is helpful. Drowsy driving is way more dangerous than drunk driving. Our schools have lots of different kinds of health education (physical, dietary, sex) but virtually nothing on sleep. The 9 to 5 work culture massively disadvantages people we call “night owls.” The macho ideal of a business person who only needs five hours of sleep a night is extremely counterproductive and dangerous, even though many of our visible leaders (business and political) claim they don’t need more than five hours a night.
The author, Matthew Walker, is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. While the book is thoroughly researched and supported by actual scientific studies that either Walker or his colleagues have done, it’s a very accessible book. I realized, as I was reading through the construction of the 17th experiment he was describing, that I was learning as much about how to do sleep studies as I was learning about the conclusions from the studies.
As a special bonus, the section on Alzheimer’s and cancer was powerful and a profound motivator to anyone who knows someone who has suffered from either of these diseases.
Time for bed.
It’s 1:34am in Boulder. I’m normally asleep by 10pm. However, since I returned from Australia, I’m up until – well – now.
For most of last week, I still felt shitty from the salmonella poisoning I got two weeks ago. I rationalized that it was ok to take an ambien every night since I was still sick. But, I’m not a fan of ambien or how it makes me feel, so I stopped on Friday. Since then, I’ve crawled into bed around 10pm with my beloved, tossed and turned for about an hour, and then gotten up and either read or typed on my computer.
I have several close friends who are insomniacs. Over the years I’ve heard their stories about being up in the middle of the night, completely awake. I see them yawn at 11am and know that regardless of what they are doing, they’d probably rather be in bed sleeping. I’ve always had sympathy for them, but I’ve never really understood it.
I have trouble sleeping maybe one night a year. On that special night, I get up and read on the couch until I fall asleep.
I’ve four nights into this no-sleep craziness on the heals of ten days of what is called gastroenteritis in polite society. It is exactly zero fun.
With that, my whining is over. I’m giving my insomniac friends virtual hugs wherever they are in the world. I’m going to crawl into bed and try again to go to sleep. Maybe I’ll feel like writing something actually useful to the universe tomorrow.
I changed my sleep pattern in October. Three months later, I feel like a completely different person. A much better one.
Since I was in my early 20’s, I’ve been getting up at 5am from Monday to Friday. I generally would go to sleep between 10 and 11. An alarm clock would wake me up. By Thursday or Friday I would often snooze or even reset it for 6am or 7am. But most of the time I pried myself out of bed at 5am.
This became a very rigorous routine in the last decade. I would get at most six hours of sleep each night during the week. Then I’d binge sleep on the weekend – often sleeping 12 to 14 hours. My world record is 15.5 hours – I’ve done that a few times.
When I was younger, I’d sleep through the night. Now I wake up two or three times in the night to pee. I fall back asleep immediately.
Three months ago I stopped waking up with an alarm clock. I use my Fitbit to track my sleep (and make my data public) so I noticed that my sleep pattern during the week naturally settled down at between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night.
It took me about a month to get my mind around this, but I now go to sleep with Amy and wake up with Amy. So – there’s a triple bonus – I’m getting a lot more sleep AND I crawl into bed with my wife, and then wake up slowly with my wife. Yeah – that’s really awesome.
I had developed this attachment to the idea that I only needed six hours of sleep a night. And, given the actual time to fall asleep and the restlessness in the night, I was only getting 4 to 5.5 hours of sleep a night. I’m able to sleep on airplanes so I had rationalized that 100% of my sleep on them counted and that’s how I was catching up. I realize that’s total bullshit – while my eyes where closed, it was unlikely that I was getting deep or REM sleep on the plane, so my sleep hygiene was lousy. I knew this, but I didn’t want to deal with it.
After three months of sleeping “they way my body wants to” I feel so much better. I’m not tired all the time. I’m in a much better mood. I’m quickly adjusting to a different work style, where rather than getting up at 5am, I’m getting up between 7am and 8am. I shifted my meeting schedule from starting at 9am to starting at 11am, so I still have the four hours of “morning time” that I crave. But I feel so much better.
It took me until age 48 to figure this out. Amy has been telling me for years that I’m not getting enough sleep. She’s also been encouraging me to sleep more so that I live longer with not so subtle hints like “women live longer than men because they get more sleep.” At least she hasn’t been turning all the milk in the house pink.
Are you getting enough sleep?