Sleep is one of those things that most of the people I know regard as something that gets in the way of getting ahead in life. How else are we supposed to fit an 8-10 hour work day, read, eat healthy, workout, socialize and work on side projects? I am among those sleep offenders. I routinely stay up late thinking that I am really getting some work done or am finally making progress on the projects I’ve been putting off. This is a habit that I have formed a LONG time ago. It began with playing video games late into the night, continued on with having friends come over late in the PM and is still going on while I struggle to raise two kids. The big difference now is, I am aware of the importance of sleep and exactly how it affects me.
Sleep Deprivation – A National Epidemic
I am sleep deprived and I know I am not alone. A recent study reported that 30% of adults (21 and older) in US, on average, get less the 6 hours of sleep per day. Only 30% of high school students reported getting 8 hours of sleep on a given school night. Sleep deprivation is a hidden epidemic. Insufficient sleep is a major reason behind some major diseases like diabetes, hypertension, depression and so many more. How many car crashes and work related injuries happen because of lack of sleep? It’s hard to say exactly, but I bet it is a major factor. Considering your ability to focus and your cognitive abilities get drastically reduced with insufficient sleep.
OK, I sort of knew all of this, but didn’t think I was being affected this way. It’s all the other people out there that can’t function when they’re sleepy. Weaklings… [sarcasm][sort of]. I don’t know if I actually thought that, but that’s how I acted.
Lesson: How to ruin a perfectly good plan
I work as a freelancer of sorts and have a fairly flexible schedule. This is something that is fairy new to me, considering I worked 6 years in a retail sales environment where every day was pre-scheduled for me. I had to adapt to having a lot more control over my schedule, this meant learning to get more organized. I always had an interest in developing organizational skills. From a very young age my grandpa taught me the importance of planning out your day in detail the day before. His theory was that if you left it till the day of… you would not get much done. It took me 20+ years to really appreciate the true value of that habit. So now, I write out my day the day before and it works magically! On the days that have been planned out, I typically accomplish a great amount of tasks, I feel good about my self and I have a lot less stress going through the day because I know what I need to do and I don’t have to spend the energy making those decisions during the day…
NOW, let’s look at what happens when sleep deprivation creeps in. I have had the habit of planning out my next day in place for over a year. I can’t say I am perfect at writing out my plans and executing those plans… I often get overly ambitious with my plans and get upset when I don’t meet some of my goals for the day. Some days emergencies come up… kids getting sick, car breaking down, laptop HD failing… you know, life stuff. But I am generally pretty good at staying on task.
For the 2 weeks, it has been the perfect storm… sleep deprivation galore! It started with a couple of late nights after some hockey games. I can’t seem to fall asleep after a late hockey game (11pm games are rough). I stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning, messing around, watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, etc. Combine that with a my 8 month old baby teething and waking up 3 to 5 times at night for the past 2-3 weeks. Mix in my oldest daughter getting sick for 4 days with a fever and needing to be taken care of… Add a dash of partying for my wife and I’s birthday BBQ. And top it off with my wife and I both getting sick… and you have the perfect storm!
I started to see most of the habits I have fought so hard to instil begin to unravel and get replaced with old habits that have seemingly been lurking in the background, waiting for a chance to rear their ugly heads. Daily planning, specifically, is a habit that I treasure. It has been instrumental to my success. What began to happen when sleep deprivation set in is this. I would make a plan before I go to sleep for the following do, filled with goals and tasks I want to accomplish. I would set a timeframe of when I would like to accomplish those goals and the flow of things during the day.
What would happen is this… I would get woken up 3 or 4 times in the middle of the night by Kylie (8 month old) and would spend 10 to 45 minutes getting her back to sleep. Next, it will be time to wake up and take Sydney (5 year old) to school. I would snooze the alarm 3 or 4 times, crawl out of bed 5 to 15 minutes late and begin scrambling to get my daughter ready for school. After dropping her off to school late, I have started my day on a bad note. I would get home and try to work out as usual. I would get through half of a work out and feel terrible. After ending my workout short, I would feel a bit upset over that little failure as well. Then, after getting ready for the day I would start work. Well, that wouldn’t go as planned either. With a few setbacks in the beginning of the day and 3 – 4 hours of poor sleep, it is hard to gather the will power and the focus needed to be productive. After 10 or 15 minutes of working I would find myself drifting off on a tangent, looking at my phone, staring at twitter and the billion articles people post. Hours would go by and I would only get a few things done. I would get a little upset over that as well. To spear you some time, I will summarize what I have noticed.
A little set back in your day will hardly make a difference to most people. An accumulation of minor little set backs over time add up to some serious problems. Over the past 2 weeks I was unable to follow through on a lot of my goals and tasks due to the lack of energy and focus. I started to skip workouts because of feeling exhausted. I began to feel down and upset. My lack of sleep also lead me to give into sugar cravings… I am normally very good at regulating the amount of sweets I eat, but when I am exhausted and sleep deprived, the necessary will power needed from the frontal cortex of your brain to keep you from giving in is simply not there….
Lesson learned: make sleep a priority
It became apparent to me that lack of sleep is in the center of the mess I am creating. Lack of sleep over time can derail even the soundest of plans. And after a several failed plans, you wonder why you even bother planning if you aren’t going to follow through. The cure, is surprisingly simple… make sleep your #1 priority. There are lots of articles out there that give great recommendations on how to get yourself to sleep, how much sleep you should get, and good sleep hygiene. Many of these tips are very helpful, but first, you have to understand how important sleep is to you and your own success and internalize the reasons for making it your #1 priority.