So essential. So precious. So elusive.
Sleep is sweet. And it comes in many iterations. Sometimes it is pure oblivion; dreamless non-waking. Sometimes it is a transported existence; a visit to otherwise unknowable times or places. Sometimes it is utterly mundane; a purely practical experience.
Sleep can also generate a surprising amount of creativity. More than once in my life I have been stuck on some conundrum. Frustrated, I took a nap and magically woke with some resolution. With my conscious mind on break, my unconscious mind had full freedom to explore solutions without the constraints of the waking world. According to scientists, the two cycles of sleep work together to support the brain's creativity. There's "a stage for abstraction and a stage for linking things together."
It is unfortunate that most of society isn't set up to enable sufficient sleep. Young students must attend school all day, participate in extracurricular activities, and somehow also complete all their homework. Add work into the mix for older students and students with fewer resources and the time in each day available for rest shrinks. Then we graduate into the working world and must devote most of our waking hours to our career while somehow managing to have a family. It's exhausting just thinking about it.
I have spent most of my life as an overachiever. Partly out of need and partly because that's what I was used to. One of the unfortunate consequences of trying to do a lot with insufficient resources (like time) was I often had to choose between finishing something and going to bed on time. Whether it was work, study, house chores, volunteer duties, or preparation for the next day, those tasks always seemed to take precedence over going to bed.
I didn't want to leave anything for my future self that I didn't absolutely have to. Future Me had enough on their plate. So I stayed up too late most nights, then got up early to get to work or the dojo. Once I started my own business, I could begin my workday later in the morning, but the habit of trying to pack in as much as possible before turning-in for the night persisted. As did my tendency to volunteer for too much.
I burned out a couple times in various ways, but it wasn't until the pandemic that my relationship to sleep really shifted. All of a sudden a lot of the working world became untethered from the 9-5 workday. A lot of us adopted what I started referring to as vampire hours, working late into the night and sleeping through much of the daylight. Sometimes I only stopped working and went to bed when I saw the sun begin to rise.
Although completely different than the hours I kept pre-pandemic, my switch to vampire hours was less irregular. I missed the mornings, but I was actually getting full nights of sleep consistently for the first time in my adult life. And that was revolutionary. After a few months I slowly shifted my bedtime back toward midnight and away from the wee hours, but I kept the consistent number of sleeping hours. And now I can't give it up.
I don't remember fighting naps or avoiding bedtime as a kid, but I assume I did because most children do. It's amusing every time I see a toddler resist an offering of care-free rest so vehemently. Restful sleep is such a valuable phenomenon at this point in my non-toddler life. I guess I've been enough places and done enough things in my nearly four decades on the planet to feel assured it will all still be here when I wake up. My FOMO has been recalibrated with sleep higher up on the priority list.
I've been thinking a lot about sleep lately because I'm in a particularly busy work season. I've been working extremely long hours and missing many social activities. I long for more time with friends and family, but there are two things I haven't skipped out on: body movement and sleep. I'm insufficiently rested for the volume of office hours I'm putting in, but this temporary work overload is more tolerable since I'm not also under-slept.
Working out and my external martial arts practice allow me to shed the stagnation building-up in my body from so much sitting (or standing) and staring at the computer. My Taiji and Qigong practices allow me to process the mental and emotional stagnation so I can maintain the quality of my sleep. Despite the overwhelming nature of my current work, I feel like I'm going to make it to the end of the season. I hope you can also find the time and space for rest in whatever shape your life is currently taking. We can all use more of it.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.