I have a problem. Maybe not a problem. A love/hate relationship rather. Who’s my frenemy (my self-declared 90ies word of the day!), you ask? Sleep.
Unlike many others who cannnot sleep or don’t sleep well and can seek the help of tiny little pills and whatnot, my issues with sleep are more emotional and conceptual than others’. I have no problems sleeping. I love it, really. Completely and utterly love it. I love everything about it: the cosiness of my bed (any bed, really, also: my sleeping bag, my friend’s lap, those seats at the airport), the comfy clothing, the warmth, the thoughts before falling asleep, how my eyes fall shut slowly. My issues are more related to the timing that comes with the subject of sleep: when and how long.
To begin with, I just sleep too much. And always at the wrong time, it seems. Say I fall asleep at 10 or 11 PM, like a ‘normal’ person would possibly do. We have always been told that we need about eight hours of sleep a night. This surely, varies in people. Maybe I don’t need 8, but only seven or up to 9. Maybe you have also heard about sleep cycles or something, claiming we sleep in installments of 3 hours (or was it 4?). Regardless of all of these things I know, I also know a lot better that if I’d go to bed at 10 or 11 PM, I would not wake up at 6 or 7 AM or even before 10 AM. I’d probably regain consciousness at around 1 PM, at which point my bladder becomes more and more insistent.
After some teenage struggles, I have come to accept that I will never awake at dawn and I will never be cheerful and energetic before noon. That just ain’t gonna happen. I am also aware that, if I had the patience to adjust my sleeping schedule to going to bed at 11 PM each and every night (and quit caffeine), my cylce would adjust over time and I’d probably wake up earlier than 1 PM (although I still severly doubt that I’d get out of bed before nine …). But then there is this other thing. I do my best, most creative and productive and focused work in the hours between midnight and 3.30AM. Going to bed an hour before my personal prime time simply hurts me as a breathing, thinking individual. Sleep at that kind of time seems like a waste. Imagine the ideas I’d have in those 3 ½ hours! The realisations! The epiphanies!
Nonetheless, I will have to change my ways. The incompability of my sleep schedule with my regular schedule (where things tend to take place while it’s light outside) is a constant source of frustration, self-doubt and unhappiness, even. Right now, these are the only consequences it has. Noone cares whether I arrive to my seminar ten minutes late and with bags under my eyes. But the “the glass in half empty” part of my brain can also vividly picture how these sleep timing issues can lead to depression, unemployment, social reclusion and addiction in the near future.
But what do I do when I have identified a problem? I start solving it (sadly, my problem-solving time is also right in the middle of the night) and declare it a project. I start researching the topic, others’ experiences and possible solutions. ‘Project Sleep’, I estimate, will be my biggest project running. Already I have done an unnerving amount of googling (which was probably counter-productive as it stopped me from sleeping), I have been tempted by costly purchases and ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to the topic.
What I know for sure now is that I will need absolute dedication and discipline. Therefore I have made the bold choice to postpone the endeavour another two weeks (usually my approach is more: do it right now or you’ll never do it!) until all my exams are over. Although I might then still regret the valuable time wasted on sleep, I will not be able to use “I have to study for my exams RIGHT NOW” as an excuse to quit or cheat the project. Very responsible of me, isn’t it.
This topic is yet another example where, really, research is unnecessary. We know what we have to do. We don’t need books or people on the internet to tell us. Still, my (unnecessary) research has given me the opportunity to approach the issue in a more systematic way and it has also inspired me to (once I have mastered the beginner’s level of sleep and timing) maybe try what this lady has done (in response to recent scholarship that claims that we humans actually slept in two installments, with a break of about an hour in between, before the industrial revolution).
But, for my current project I’m just hoping that my creative/productive /focused hours will simply shift in my day, maybe to 8 PM? That would actually be ideal. Fingers crossed.