Monday, January 07, 2008

You Are Getting Very Sleeeeeepy.....

Call it the perspective of age, if you like. Or maybe the aftereffects of being so totally burned out for so many years that “overtired” becomes a masterpiece of understatement. But on the heels of complete Christmas exhaustion (a good kind, but still…) and in the flurry of temptation to make lots of New Year’s resolutions about self-improvement, setting new writing goals, finishing more manuscripts, et al, one clear thought broke through over all the clamor and chaos: Sleep. Many sages have talked about how most of us (especially Americans) tend to be “human doings” rather than “human beings.” On one level, we know we don’t really need to fill up Day Planners with “tasks” and track them with a variety of codes that John Nash would have been proud of—but on another level, we are afraid not to. Many of us have a hard time going on vacation because we literally can’t stop working. Worse, we’re “encouraged” (sometimes not too subtly!) to cultivate the ability to be constantly in touch with work even from remote locations, through things like gotomypc.com and Blackberries…to the point where if we’re incommunicado for any length of time—even during “time off”—the underlying message is that We Will Fall Behind, and/or We Are Not Performing To Expectations. Well, maybe those expectations need a swift kick. And I’m ready to give ‘em one. Even as we’re communicating more things faster, taking in and putting out more information than air and carbon dioxide, and supposedly getting work done in a “leaner, cleaner” way, health authorities tell us that we do this at a tremendous cost in terms of sleep and rest. It’s an established fact that most of us are chronically sleep-deprived, diminishing our ability to function on so many levels that at times it’s a miracle we get through our day unscathed. Obviously, our energy levels suffer; more pernicious, however, are the other effects lack of sleep has on us all—everything from temper tantrums to an inability to properly digest and metabolize food. We spend a large portion of our days on a thin edge of caffeine and adrenaline—and then we wonder why our families seem unhappy, our emotions and judgments are out of whack, and our bodies refuse to do what they seemed able to do mere weeks ago. Most of us read these things and say, “Yeah, I know, I should get more sleep…I’ll catch up on my days off,” or, “I can sleep in on the weekend,” or, “Isn’t that what vacations are for?” (Maybe so, maybe not. See earlier comment about vacation!) Setting aside for the moment the fact that we cannot ever really catch up on sleep—once it’s gone, it’s gone—I think it’s about time to reassess what we’re really demanding of ourselves, and why…and at what cost. Some of our reasons for shortchanging ourselves in this important area seem to come from good hearts and good reasons. Some of them have to do with taking care of other people, dealing with real crises, or “running Spain” (one of my favorite oblique references from You’ve Got Mail). But our bodies don’t care about running Spain; they need rest, refreshment, and respite. And if they don’t get it, eventually, we get sick. That’s no way to live. And so my resolution for this year, once and for all, is to start giving my body as much rest as it craves. In extreme and wonderful ways, if necessary. The good question is how to do this in the very real world of evening commitments, meetings, or just wanting to watch Monday Night Football. (!) The answer for me will be to go for a really, really early bedtime as often as I can, the moment I need it, whenever possible. To do that, I need to stick to redefining what “possible” is. “Possible” means doing less. One fewer thing after work. One fewer thing before bedtime. “Possible” may entail washing the kitchen floor another night, if I’m pooped tonight. “Possible” means that I can release myself from a lot of “gottas”—not that I allow things to get slovenly, but just that maybe I delegate more. Allow other people to help. Find some ways to work smarter instead of just longer. Bottom line? Six days out of the week, most weeks, it’s “possible” for me to go to bed at 8 PM if I want. 7:30, if I need to. So that’s what I’ve done several times already in the last couple of weeks. And it’s been wonderful. Maybe it’s obvious to many of you out there, but it’s a revelation to me to be reminded that “sleeping in” can happen just as effectively from the front end of a night’s sleep as it can from the back end. For my particular internal chemistry, that’s actually a better way to go: I’d rather get up earlier than sleep in later, even when given a choice. Sure, there are times when I’ll need to be out later. But if the majority of the time, I’m giving myself a full 9 hours or more in bed, those intermittent times won’t wear me down nearly as much. And if I want to watch Monday Night Football? (Or see the Bulls or Cubs when they happen to be on TV, which if they’re home doesn’t happen until 8-8:30 PM here?) That’s what DVRs are for. I’ve already discovered the fun of replaying an internet radio broadcast of a game on my computer at a time when I’m actually home to hear it—and I already record The Closer, which comes on too late for me to watch it and go to bed at a prudent hour here. It won’t be a large step to remember to do likewise for more frequent sporting events; it’ll just take a little discipline now and then. (That, and clearing out old recordings from the DVR if I need to. But I can do that. I’m the Tossing Queen.) That small discipline will make me feel better in the long run than trying to maintain the forced march that comes out of consistently cramming more and more into my day and disdaining sleep as being for little kids or people with “nothing better to do.” Are you as tired as I have been? Maybe this is a good idea to think about for you, too. Because there are times when we all actually have “nothing better”—and nothing more important—to do than stop the world, climb into our pajamas, and give our bodies the rest they need for a change. All we really need to do is be willing to stop the excess, cut back on the “gotta” element, and see if that then doesn’t free us up for a great “sleeping in” experience. Looking forward to clear eyes, a clear mind, and a much clearer year… Janny

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