Wide Awake: True Confessions of a Bedtime Hater

“I rarely get tired.” “I’m fine on 5 hours of sleep.” “I am fueled by caffeine and the Holy Spirit!” Or my favorite: “Life is too short to sleep.”

This has been my mantra for years. Life’s too short to sleep. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I’m not tired. Really.

Except, just lately, I’ve acknowledged that “I don’t get tired often, but when I do, I hit it pretty hard.” And then I had to kind of admit that my qualifying statement–“but when I do”–was becoming more the rule than the exception. I started to hear my own insistence of i’m not tired i’m not tired i’m not tired as the manic testimony of a toddler who is just this side of an epic pre-naptime meltdown.

I’m tired. There. I admit it. Maybe my body has figured out it’s about to be 40 and it is rebelling against me, but I’m ready to own up. I’m tired. All over, bone deep tired.

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Trouble is, I’m not sleepy. And there is a difference. Because people who are sleepy GO TO SLEEP. They just lay right down and fall right into it, no pills or fancy rituals or anything. I will never understand this. I am not a good sleeper. When I’m tired, sleep is the last thing I want to do. I wouldn’t call myself an insomniac. I get to sleep eventually. But it’s not easy, and it’s not something I look forward to. When I’m tired, what I want is downtime. Reading; chatting with friends online, or texting my brother and vicariously enjoying his traveling musician life; or maybe binge-watching Netflix and drinking wine from a box, whatever.

Which is why, when I finally recognized and acknowledged my fatigue, I started offering myself radical self-care in every other way imaginable. Sleep seemed like this radical last-ditch option, the newfangled experimental procedure that you employ when the grim-faced doctor comes and tells you there’s no other way. “I’m sorry ma’am, I know it’s not the news you hoped for… But we’ve tried everything else, and there’s nothing left to do except just lay down and close your eyes for a few hours. There’s never an easy way to break that to a patient.” Seriously, I have done everything else. Exercise? Almost every day. Green vegetables? I might turn into a kale and spinach smoothie. Massage? All over it. Therapist? On speed dial. Aromatherapy? Bring on that lavender oil. Play along some soothing new age-y music while we’re at it, and I’m so zen you just wouldn’t believe.

But going to bed early? Miss me with that.

Why am I sharing this public confessional? Because I read this article yesterday–The Shorter Your Sleep, the Shorter Your Life. And it has totally scared me straight. Overnight, I’ve gone from “life is too short to sleep” to “If I don’t sleep, my life will be too short.”

How can one article completely change my sleep philosophy? Well for one thing, it contains all sorts of alarming statistics–based on actual science– about all the ways that sleep deprivation totally wrecks your body, your cognitive state, and your mental health too. Awesome.

It also offers some speculation on why such a high number of Americans are trying to get by on less than 7 hours of sleep at night. The short answer: electric lights, digital devices, alcohol and caffeine. Our usage of all these things has ramped up in the past few decades and made us a nation of walking zombies. It is affecting not just our health, but our relationships, and the very fabric of our society. In fact, the more I think about it, a national epidemic of sleep deprivation is probably the true heart of our healthcare crisis.

But I think the most powerful effect of this article was its timing in my own life. It offered some very direct answers to the lingering internal question I’ve been holding lately, which is: why are none of these things I’m doing for my body making me feel better? Well, because I’m withholding the one thing that my body is trying to tell me it wants.

With that in mind, I had to recognize the convicting truth of this statement: “In the developed world, sleep is strongly associated with weakness, even shame. We have stigmatised sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting. It’s a badge of honor.”

Well, hell. That sounds a little too close to home, doesn’t it?

It also sounds, ironically, like the kind of thinking that I preach against ALL THE DANG TIME. I am constantly telling my people that we are embodied beings, so much more than anything we can accomplish or produce. And yet, here I am, spinning my wheels long into the night and wondering why I feel so dang tired all the time. This article was a blessed wake-up call for me. Or rather, a go-the-f***-to-sleep call. It is a glaring testament to some of the ways that I do not quite practice what I preach; a reminder that, while I know better, I do not always embody and internalize what I know to be true about the nature of God, and the nature of embodiment.

There you have it. My public confession is my accountability. I’m ready to call this what it is–a spiritual sickness–and offer myself the only real antidote available, which is rest. I’m going to get off of this hamster wheel of toxic, caffeinated productivity, and maybe let my body catch up to the rest of me. It is just my wild hunch that many of you might be on the same vicious treadmill. Let’s hop off together, and aim to stick around awhile longer for the people we love.

I make this shift grudgingly. I am a night owl, and I hate giving up that window of down time to a state of non-awesomeness. I find sleep boring and un-fun (yes, Enneagram people, I am a 7. Full stop, no wing ambiguities). As much as I like to think I’m avoiding sleep to more fully enjoy my waking moments, I know deep down I am just programmed to think I should be doing something, every second. Having had a mirror held up to that particular dysfunction, I can’t un-see it. So, I’ll resign myself to the pillow and let it have me for awhile.

Now that I think of it… one night a couple weeks ago, in some rare fluke of whatever, I slept for NINE hours.  I could not help but notice that I felt amazing the next day. I accomplished more before noon than I normally would in a day. And I was like, “wow, crazy,” scarcely acknowledging that maybe it was because I was functioning like an actual human-being and not an espresso fueled robot.

My goal is to have more nights like that, and more good days to follow. I’ll let you know how it goes. But it might be awhile. I have a feeling that once I lay down, I may not get up again for awhile.

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