I drafted this post in a fog, having slept only a few hours the night before due to a neck crick that a previous night's sleep gave me combined with too much sugar. (Isn't my life exciting?)
These aren't bragging rights. But often sleeplessness is, particularly among business types. I have a friend who was recently ill with something that took him a few months to get over completely. How did he tell me he knew he was back to his "old self?" He'd built back the stamina needed to get only four hours of sleep a night. He's too busy to sleep more than that. Other executives "complain" over lunch about how little sleep they get each night, they're just so inundated with work. I'm sure I'm not alone in often hearing the expression,
"You sleep when you die."
Yeah, well, you're going to die faster that way. Research continues to pile up on the mental and physical benefits of a full night’s sleep. Not only does sleep help us learn better and think better, it helps our bodies ward off disease and helps manage our diet and weight. (Here’s a quickie summary of the connections between sleep and health, via Harvard Medical School.)
Seems like there are very few other poor lifestyle choices that we brag about with so much pride or feel so guilty about not experiencing. I don't brag about eating too many cookies in an evening. (There's a reason my trainer calls me "Cookie Monster." And there's a reason I didn’t sleep very well the night before I drafted this essay.) Also, I don't feel guilty for not drinking too much when I hear about a nasty hangover.
I get it: No sleep for the cause of a high-powered career seems hard core. Committed. Dedicated. All those qualities we praise business people for having.
But can't we manifest those qualities in some other, less health-damaging way? Can't we begin to see that a commitment to getting a full night’s sleep, so that a person can perform better, is a different kind of dedication to the career cause?
I resolved early in the year to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. I’m not always succeeding, but it’s a target. Frankly, I’m sharper and more highly functional on a solid eight hours of sleep—and I need even more than eight hours when life is particularly stressful or I’m running more miles at a higher intensity.
Also, I clock in at a lighter weight on the scale when I'm sleeping more, too. (How's that for motivation?) Maybe it's the cycle of sleeping better, so I need fewer cookies, which helps me sleep better… And so on.
Yes, I realize there aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done, especially if a person sleeps seven or eight hours a night. To get my seven hours, I have to sacrifice things that I'd really like to do. Sometimes, that's a bummer. But I can choose what to keep and what to give up. Most of what I give up isn't all that rewarding, anyway. (How much television are you watching, hmm?) And it's a worthwhile trade to give up a few less worthy things so that I can enjoy the important stuff all that much more.
Lil' ol' me conscientiously objecting isn't going to change an entire culture built on extolling the virtues of exhaustion. But I do invite you to enjoy me. And maybe if you invite someone, and they invite someone, and so on, we'll start a little movement. You in?