Daily 6: New lessons on sleep

November 26, 2016

I’ve struggled all my life with sleep, though not in a way that inspires pity or empathy. Historically, mine has been the ultimate sleep first world problem. It’s not that I can’t get to sleep—I can fall asleep within minutes, and can nap readily—it’s that I’ve always had trouble getting myself to go to bed. For a natural night owl who has always had so many things he wanted to do (like, ya know, write books), I have long had a habit of staying up too late.

Working upwards to four jobs at once has been a crash course in many things, and sleep is most definitely among them. I’ve gotten radically better at managing my sleep, and I figured some of the lessons might be useful to y’all.

1) Don’t plan so damn much each day.

This is one of the ways I’ve finally (more or less, falteringly) solved my problem with not being able to get myself to go to bed. When I plan 15,532 things to do in a day, I can never finish them all, so I get in a big rush near bedtime and end up staying up too late. Instead, the more I can make my notecards adhere to something like the 1-3-5 rule—here’s a cool looking app that adheres broadly to it, though I’m sticking with my notecards personally—the better I do.

One sub-trick: I often try to make my most important task (usually writing) take up the most space, so it crowds out less important tasks. Instead of just “Write x words on Book 3,” I might give it two more lines about the scenes I’m going to be working on. It helps me.

2) Keep a semi-consistent sleep schedule.

This one is huuuuge if you work nights, like I do. There’s just something psychologically debilitating about going to sleep at 9am and waking up at dinner time; you feel like you’ve missed the day. I’d rather sleep for 3-4 hours, wake up to do a few things, and then sleep for another 3-4 hours before work. This one is still in the beta stages, but early results are good.

3) Nine hours a night is key.

This will depend on the person, but getting more sleep than the eight hours commonly recommended is a lifehack I’ve heard from several high-performing individuals in the interview podcasts I love to listen to. I can definitely say this works for me. It might feel like you’ll get far less done if you’re unconscious for an extra hour each day, but I know I’m so much more efficient (and less sluggish) with everything I do if I’m well-rested. That more than makes up for the extra hour, and makes it more enjoyable too. Plus . . .

4) You can’t do anything creative if you’re tired.

Ditto to anything scary, like making sales calls. My most important jobs (writing books, selling beer) are ones I can’t do well if I’m tired, because they’re work I don’t have to do right this moment, and sleep would be so nice . . . and pretty soon I’ve either drifted off or frittered time away being tired. If I’m rested though, that’s one less excuse, and my will power is much higher.

5) Orange-tinted glasses, evening baths, kill the screens, melatonin

Here’s an assortment of lifehacks that help make it easier to fall asleep. Orange-tinted glasses filter out the blue light waves that tell our brains “It’s morning!”, something which software like f.lux helps with too. (Here are the ones I use.) Evening baths elevate serotonin levels, and when you get out and your body rapidly cools down, it helps expend energy and make you tired. Getting away from screens (computers, phones) is another element of the blue light thing, and it also makes it harder for those of us who work from home to keep working. I’ve tried melatonin supplements, and I’ll be honest: I have no idea whether they have any effect. Sometimes it seems like they do, other times it doesn’t. It could easily be placebo. They don’t seem to have any risks, though, so if it’s placebo, that’s fine with me.

All of these help make you tired, though as I noted above, I don’t have any trouble getting to sleep. I mostly use them to signal to myself that it’s time to be moving toward bed, which is where it helps me.

6) Trying to reset your sleep schedule by “lapping” does NOT work.

By lapping, I mean trying to skip a night of sleep so you can go to bed way early the next day and get your sleep schedule back on track. This is something I experimented with extensively whenever I had to work night on a Sunday (11p-7a) , and then work day immediately after that on Monday (9a-4p). I would push my sleep schedule forward after work on Friday and Saturday night, until on Sunday I was waking up at 9pm. Then I’d try to make it all the way to 5pm on Monday, with maybe a short nap or two in between.

This does not work. Even if I was only trying to stay awake for 20 hours, which is more than usual but not by a huge amount (and I’d often try to nap before the 9am meeting, and again during lunch), I would already be exhausted after my night shift (7am, awake for 10 hours), even though being awake for 10 hours is normal. The body just doesn’t function well when the circadian rhythm is thrown off so determinedly; it gets confused, and this confusion makes it want to go to sleep, and even if I resist I’m left with the problem from #4. This is why I’m now trying to keep my sleep schedule semi-consistent (see #2), even if that means sleeping twice during a day. It keeps my body from going insane.

Those are a few of the lessons I’ve learned about sleep. Fortunately for me, I just changed my schedule at the night job from Fri-Sun to Thurs-Sat, which means none of those Sun night/Mon day double work days I mentioned above. That means I might actually be semi-functional on Mondays—which are the biggest sales day at the brewery—and I might also be able to get up and write before my other work day. Here’s hoping! *crosses fingers*

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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