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 I’m sure that I seemed quiet and withdrawn to fellow commuters, which could have been partly attributed to being an introvert, but mostly it was because my mind was so overclocked that having to talk to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).

4 Comments

  1. Alix

    My psychiatrist suggested gardening when I was suicidally depressed. I bought a bunch of seeds and didn’t have the energy to transplant them. So the little plants died. In the end, I was a) more broke, b) felt like a failure, and c) felt sad for the plants. >.>

    I hope you find a good doctor where you are now!

    • victoria

      Geez. I’m sorry you went through that experience, Alix. I like gardening. I even had a little veggie garden and potted herbs back at my old apartment. But damn it all, when someone shows up at a doctor who is close to dying, they need to do A LOT better than, “take up gardening”.

      • Alix

        ????

        Finding docs who *listen* is really difficult. I understand they’re under a lot of pressure and time limits, but I’d expect “take up gardening” from an acquaintance at best.

        [My psych is the only one around (rural life), and we did eventually find something that worked (for the depression side of things), so it’s all good.]

        Pippa says hi, btw. She just walked across the keyboard at you. ;D ????

        I spent a couple weeks on the west coast many years ago. It seemed to fit my body’s natural rhythm more than any other time zone.

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