Sleep

I remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter*. I was procrastinating on a task that was too stubborn to finish. It was Sunday. I figured that it’s going to demotivate me if I kept seeing this the next week. So I decided to finish it before Monday’s first lights. Luckily, my friend has started and been running a private library (Nöbetçi Kütüphane — only in Turkish), and he lent me the keys for the night. Fast forward a day: Not only I got to finish that nasty task, but I had a surreal experience working through the night in a beautiful and empty library.

Now one might think that I started the week on a high note. That was partly true. I felt better because that bugging task was no more, and now I had a slightly freer Monday. Even though I did not manage to get sufficient sleep, that didn’t matter. Considering the opposite scenario where I did not pull that all-nighter and still needed to work on it the whole day, I felt productive.

At this point, I should mention that I was pulling all-nighters now and then until that point. I remember staying awake for 36 hours** to decrease my start-up business’ time-to-market. But I wasn’t paying attention to my overall well-being back then, and I haven’t thought if the way I live will be sustainable at all. However, I was a bit more mindful at the time the library all-nighter happened. I noticed a horrible decline in my ability to focus on creative tasks during the week. I also had to revise my all-nighter work because it turned out to be sub-optimal. It affected my overall mood, and I ended the week demotivated.

Artist: Gülfemin Buğu Tekcan — cosmodotart

I like experimenting, so I put an effort to see how sleep affects my brain. It was a solo run, and that’s why I cannot generalize anything. In the end, though, I started having siestas like true Mediterraneans. Especially if I get less sleep on a particular night, sleeping for some time midday helped me get my well-needed rest and cleared my mind. I had my routines to get enough sleep*** and I could feel productive continuously.

Last year when I finished the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, I could finally put the pieces together. I started understanding why a sleepless night could ruin a whole week. It was a revealing moment to find out why I felt like I could conquer the world if I get a siesta earlier in the day, but I woke up even more tired if that siesta happened later in the afternoon. I also found out why taking a power nap made a complex task seem a bit simpler afterward. At the beginning of the book, I was skeptical when the author revealed that most of us are sleep-deprived. In the end, I was nodding frantically.

Sleep is the third pillar of us humans’ well-being. It goes hand in hand with a healthy diet and exercise. However, when sleep is missing, the other two are not enough to keep our minds and bodies healthy. It is also not something that we can save for the future — we also can’t borrow it. Let’s say you need 8 hours of sleep every day****. When you sleep for 7 hours a day, you’re sleep-deprived. Do you want to cover the missing hours on the weekend? Sleeping 10 hours a day won’t save you, because it’s not working linearly.

Let me give you two major reasons to get enough sleep. When you don’t get the minimum amount of sleep your body requires:

  1. Your immune system suffers. I’m not only talking about catching a common cold. Sleeping less decreases your body’s ability to identify and destroy cancer cells. Think about the cumulative effect when you deprive yourself of sleep for weeks, months, or years on a daily basis.

  2. Your cognitive functioning decreases. Think of it like this: As you stay awake, you collect more and more in your brain. If you don’t go to sleep, it gets cluttered, and you can’t collect more even if you force yourself. Sleep helps you clean your working memory. While the useful knowledge might be transferred to your long-term memory, you’ll get a clean slate when you wake up.

Sleep is a natural cleanser for both your body and mind. It’s a natural prescription if I may borrow Matthew Walker’s analogy. The only thing you need to do is to take it every day.

How do you feel about your sleep schedule? Do you think you would be better off with more hours? How do you cope if you don’t get enough sleep? Let me know in the comments.

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Footnotes

* It was my last voluntary all-nighter.
** I have medical doctor friends who have to endure such long shifts constantly. I can easily say that it’s neither good for them nor their patients.
*** Of course, every routine I had shattered with my daughter's birth, but that’s not this post’s topic. :-)
**** Everyone’s needs are different, and we all have a baseline decided by our genetic code.