when I’m awake

There are a lot of good reasons to start a blog. Insomnia isn’t one of them.

I have a rule: at 3 am I can give up trying to go to sleep. At that point I can get up and eat breakfast, get online, exercise, or whatever else I want to do with the two hours before my alarm goes off. But after two weeks of perpetual jet lag one runs out of productive things to do that aren’t being accomplished during daylight hours. Um, and also don’t require a lot of presence of mind; slicing an apple and anything that I have a recent scar from is off limits.

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It’s amazing what sleep deprivation does to me. Last week I made myself bleed five times in a 6 hour period (that was when the apple rule was created). But you know what I’ve recently discovered is evening more amazing? What actually sleeping does to me. I remember people’s names. And where I put my keys. And why I just came into the room I’m in. I retain my ability to do basic calculus, and think critically, and speed read. I eat less, and yet have more energy. I even create better and create more.

What I mean by actually sleeping is sleeping well, at the right time, and for the right amount of time.

Don’t Sleep Recklessly

Food is good for you, right? But not in any amount and whenever you feel like it. It’s (kind of) the same with sleep.

I’d been told since I could make my own bed that 9 hours of sleep a night was the optimum amount. Where does that come from? I frequently also come across the idea (published) that sleep before midnight is equal to anywhere between two to four times as much as sleep after midnight. (Wait, so I need to sleep nine hours after midnight, or I just sleep two and a half hours before midnight?)

Studies actually show that, in terms of longevity, anywhere between 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours is best. In fact, “There is just as much risk associated with sleeping too long as with sleeping too short. The big surprise is that long sleep seems to start at 8 hr. Sleeping 8.5 hr. might really be a little worse than sleeping 5 hr.” That’s worse for your lifespan, your health and your emotional well-being.

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In terms of when the best time to sleep is, it can differ from person to person. Which is why some of us, despite our best intentions, feel perpetually jet lagged. “During the week, everyone is expected to get to the office more or less at the same time—let’s say 9 a.m. This suits larks just fine. Owls know they ought to go to bed at a reasonable time, but they can’t—they’re owls. So they end up having to get up one, two, or, in extreme cases, three hours earlier than their internal clock would dictate.” It’s not just conditioning, it’s has to do with how we’re built, and it can change throughout your life. (Ever notice how it always seems to be the very old and the very young who are morning people?)

So there’s something to think about if you’re ever lying awake at night. Or you could read more about the best kind of sleep on the Buffer Blog. Or you could ponder big questions, like:

If you desperately needed energy but had only a very limited amount of time, would you spend it eating or sleeping? (Or…?)