On DST And Trading Sleep For Success

So, how are we all doing with Daylight Saving Time? Are you loving all that EXTRA DAYLIGHT1?

*ducks under the flying rotten produce*

Yeah, I’m not a fan, either.

So a few weeks ago I found this “motivational quote” and accompanying advice in my planner2:

“I never knew a man come to greatness or eminence who lay abed late in the morning.” —Jonathan Swift

And the advice:

“This week, take advantage of the morning’s peace and quiet and challenge yourself to wake up an hour earlier than you usually would. Use this time to exercise, meditate, or journal.”

Of course, this advice is not new. People who consider themselves thought leaders on productivity and success give this advice all the time so that you too can achieve success(!) and riches(!!) beyond your wildest dreams(!!!).

Unless you’re fortunate enough to regularly get plenty of sleep and wake up refreshed every morning, this is really shitty advice.

According to a study released in 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control, 33% of American adults do not get enough sleep.

I may not have been a participant in that study, but I am definitely one of those adults who struggles to get enough sleep and have struggled with it for most of my adult life. During the worst point in my battle with insomnia, I got about 1-1/2 to 2 hours of sleep per night—and that was in 5- to 15-minute blocks (toward the end of that pitiful episode I got a Fitbit and the stats confirmed my estimate). On weekends I might get 5-6 hours of sleep, but I’d be in bed for 12-14 hours to achieve that and I never felt rested.

Outwardly, I appeared reasonably functional: I went to work every day and even commuted to and from the ferry on my bicycle. I know I exhibited signs of stress at work but the job itself was stressful (which fed into the insomnia). I’m sure that I seemed quiet and withdrawn to fellow commuters, which could have been partly attributed to being an introvert, but mostly it was because my mind was so overclocked that having to talk to people caused me physical pain. My short-term memory was fried to the point that I often joked with a co-worker that I would call her to tell her why I was walking in her direction so she could remind me by the time I got there if I was going to the printer or to the ladies restroom. It was good for a laugh but sleep deprivation is really not very funny.

It was, however, nearly deadly. It is a miracle—or a testament to my stubbornness—that I’m alive and writing about this now.

If you experience issues such as an inability to control your emotions or maintain focus, or you have problems with short-term memory or completing simple tasks, you may not be getting enough sleep. If this goes on for a prolonged period of time, you should be evaluated by your doctor 3. If you snore or make gasping noises in your sleep, your doctor should check for sleep apnea, which can be fatal if it is not managed.

The other causes of sleep loss are as varied as the population who suffers from it. We are a 24/7/365-connected-burn-the-candle-at-both-ends-balls-to-the-wall-you-should-have-a-side-hustle-or-two-in-addition-to-your-full-time-job kind of society. We stress out about our jobs. We stress out about the probability of LOSING our jobs. We stress out over paying the rent or the mortgage or how can we afford health insurance for the family or braces for our kids. We stress out about getting sick and the stress MAKES us truly sick and tired.

There are a lot of supplements and over-the-counter medicines that claim to help you sleep and wake up refreshed. I’ve tried many of them: either they didn’t help me get to sleep or they left me feeling drowsy and hung over. If you are taking any medication for any other condition, DO NOT take any OTC pills or supplements without checking with your doctor or a pharmacist. You don’t want to deal with the effects of two drugs not playing nice with each other. Your doctor may prescribe a sleep aid, but if you are reluctant to take medication there are some non-pharmaceutical ways to deal with sleep loss.

  • Try to leave work at work: Ask bosses and co-workers to contact you at home only if it’s an emergency.
  • Stop watching television an hour or more before you go to bed (and nix the TV from the bedroom).
  • Set a consistent bedtime and establish a regular pre-bedtime routine so your body and your mind become accustomed to associating these actions with going to sleep.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption. (I loved having a glass of wine with dinner but had to give that up when I realized that it messed with my sleep—despite alcohol making me drowsy.)
  • Put away the iDevices and laptops an hour or two before you go to bed. If you can’t put them away, make use of the nighttime function of your device, or use a product like like f.lux, which changes the color cast of your screen so your brain isn’t getting bombarded with WAKE UP signals from your screen.

If your lifestyle and workplace allow for it, try to arrange your day so that you are in alignment with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Oftentimes we fall into our natural rhythm on weekends or on vacation, only to drag ourselves out of that on Monday morning. Much like changing from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time, this destabilizes your system and magnifies any fatigue issues you already have. If you cannot arrange your day so that you can meet your obligations when you are at your most energetic and productive, then try to keep your regular bedtime schedule and routine on the weekends and on vacation.

And for goodness sake, if you are already having problems sleeping and you feel groggy when your alarm goes off in the morning and sluggish the rest of the day, DO NOT FORCE YOURSELF TO GET UP AN HOUR EARLIER BECAUSE SOME JACKASS SAYS THAT’S THE KEY TO SUCCESS! When it’s important to you, you will find that hour (or half hour, or 20 minutes) somewhere else in your day for meditating or exercising4 or pleasure reading or whatever.

Now, please go get some rest.

1It’s impossible to deposit or withdraw hours of daylight. IT’S THE SAME DAYLIGHT, NO MATTER HOW YOU SWITCH THE CLOCK AROUND. Seriously, just pick a damn time and stick with it.

2Yes, I still use a paper planner, now get off my lawn!

3Yes, I did bring this up with the doctor I had at the time. Unfortunately, she was so fixated on my weight, she assumed I didn’t exercise at all (I guess 5 miles of bicycling and 2-3 miles of walking every day for my commute didn’t count). Her actual words to me were: “You seem so sad. Maybe you should take up gardening.”

4Joining a gym (and going consistently) was a non-starter, so I managed to get in an hour or so of exercise every day by using my daily commute to get in a bike ride to the ferry (a little over 2 miles each way, depending on the route I took) and a walk from the Ferry Building to my office (around a mile each way).

re: #TakeAKnee

So I see World Leader Pretend decided that going off on Colin Kaepernick and Steph Curry was more important than helping Americans in Puerto Rico, who are facing an unimaginable humanitarian crisis.

World Leader Pretend has even called for a boycott of the NFL if the players #TakeAKnee or sit during the national anthem.

I won’t take advice or direction from a draft dodger who has to be reminded to place his hand over his heart during the national anthem. I have plenty of reasons of my own to have stopped supporting the National Football League.

I stopped supporting the NFL over a decade ago, but NOT because of players who exercise their constitutional right to stand or sit or sing or pray or do whatever the hell they want to during the national anthem. I quit watching the NFL because I do not condone celebrating rapists, wife/girlfriend beaters, animal abusers, or the league office covering up the fact that the sport is very very bad for brains. I stopped supporting the NFL because, when I took a good long, uncomfortable look at it, I found I was disgusted that the league owners enjoy running the league like a giant plantation.

While I won’t watch the NFL, I will #TakeAKnee with Colin Kaepernick until Black and Brown people can leave their homes and go about their lives without fear of facing a police officer who appoints him/herself as judge/jury/executioner for those whose only “crime” was existing as a person of color in public. I will #TakeAKnee until we start moving our society toward racial justice and equal opportunity for ALL Americans, regardless of their skin color, gender identity or sexual orientation. I will #TakeAKnee because my Black and Brown friends are weary from fighting this battle, every single day of their lives, and I refuse to stand by and watch them continue to fight this alone.

Postscript: Well, after several days, World Leader Pretend finally had something to say about the devastation in Puerto Rico. No surprise that he pretty much insulted them and kicked them while they’re down, for that’s the Way Of The Bully.

How nice that he managed to work in that food, (clean) water, and medical supplies/help are somewhere on the list of priorities…after dragging Puerto Rico for owing Wall Street and banks. Good grief!

If you want to help the people of Puerto Rico in their recovery, Jezebel has a roundup of places where you can donate.


So I recently came across another criticism of The Elements of Style, this time by writer A. L. Kennedy.

The primary problem that I take away from Kennedy’s criticism of The Elements of Style is that she is confusing principles for rules. While the first chapter of the book is titled “Elementary Rules of Usage” the chapter that most of her criticism is aimed at is the second chapter: “Elementary Principles of Composition”. Rules and principles are different things.

Among the “rules” that Kennedy takes issue with is “Use definite, specific, concrete language” (Principle 16). White: “The greatest writers—Homer, Dante, Shakespeare—are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures.”

White describes the basic principle of writing that everyone is taught, beginning in grammar school:

Show, don’t tell.

In reading Kennedy’s rebuttal, I wonder if this is another case where some proofreading may have been beneficial1 because she changed what White said to infer that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare were effective writers “primarily” (emphasis hers) because of concrete language. Largely and primarily are not the same thing, and anyone who has studied writing should 1) understand the difference, and 2) agree that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare were damn good at show, don’t tell.

Kennedy seems to have particular vitriol for Principle 17 (Omit needless words):

What about David Foster Wallace, or Woolf, or Proust, or any other writer of elaborate prose whose work might, under a strict editor following these guidelines, have been unfairly diminished? Maybe you think Infinite Jest could have used a cut or two, but surely you can’t accuse it of being anything less than vigorous. “Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating,” White writes. Unwholesome! How bizarrely moralistic and patently false. Whether it is nauseating to him, of course, is his business; this is merely a matter of taste—which gets at the crux of my argument here. None of these rules apply to everyone, so presenting them in this way is somewhat disingenuous. And in White’s case, more than somewhat crotchety.

A good writer omits needless words, and an editor who isn’t powered by Artificial Intelligence would broadly scrutinize a manuscript, rather than strictly apply such guidelines without considering the whole product. Wallace, Woolf, and Proust were masters of the craft, such that every word that made it to print was there because it had earned its place. And that, to me, is what White was getting at with this rule. If your prose calls for $25 words in some places, use them. But be generous with those $0.25 words, too: you get a lot more value from them.

An aside: I had to laugh when I read the comments section of this article and found another Elements hater whose comment was so full of flowery prose it was nearly unintelligible. I get it: you love language and you love to show off your vocabulary because it makes you sound, I don’t know, “literary”? But wouldn’t you want your audience to be able to understand you? When the average reader needs to consult a thesaurus just to get through a sentence (or, in my case, mimic a “gag me” gesture), you might consider whether you’re writing to be read by a diverse audience, or just performing intellectual masturbation.

As I read through Kennedy’s kvetchfest, I kept wondering if she understood the importance of knowing the rules to know how to break them. She kept me hanging until the end:

As a writing teacher, I know that most people need to master the rules before they can break them.


This is true of ANY craft. Understand the basic structure of writing (or painting, or architecture, or music) and then you use it to give your voice—or your vision—a solid foundation to build from.

My copy of The Elements of Style has yellowed pages, tons of highlights and is never too far out of my reach. It is, and always has been, a reference, though I do agree with some of the criticism of how it is used. It should be a required reference for beginning writers, but any writing teacher that flogs The Elements of Style as the canon law of writing is lazy and doing a disservice to their students.

There are volumes of great books on writing (I have many of them on my shelves), but there is good reason why The Elements of Style remains a popular reference, nearly 100 years after it was first published. It’s brief, easy to carry around, and the basic advice still holds up well.

1 An unfortunate error that got past the copy editors was “don’t use the active voice”. Readers of The Elements of Style know that Strunk and White advocate FOR using the active voice.