My neighbor was walking down his driveway to pick up his newspaper when he saw me running past his house and stopped me for a quick chat….
“How many miles did you say you were gonna run this morning”? He asked.
“12” I replied. “Just finishing up now….”
“Seriously?!? I just woke up and I’m thinking about going inside and laying back down because my head is killing me…. How can you do that?!”
“Eh… I dunno….” I said with a smile, “I guess I’m just gooooooood…..”
“Damn, that’s pretty hardcore” he said with an astonished look before heading back inside his house to chill for the rest of the day.
Now, my running 12 miles wasn’t what impressed him – what he was actually referring to was the fact that the two of us and a few other friends had sat around a bonfire in his back yard the night before drinking until nearly 4am, at which point I got up and stumbled across his yard and into my house, went to sleep for a couple hours, and then got up at 6:30 and went for a long run.
Was that really impressive? I’m sure it was to him, but to me, that was a long, rough, sluggish run that took every ounce of willpower that I had in my body to not stop in the middle. Yeah I got through it, but I definitely wouldn’t have called it a good run.
Long runs like that used to be all too common for me until I started to realize how important it really is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep….
I recently read a really good post on Running N’ Reading about the importance of sleep, and it occurred to me that there never seem to be a lot of blog posts written about sleep even though it’s just as important as diet and exercise when it comes to truly living a healthy lifestyle. So I started to wonder why that is exactly and I think I figured it out- sleep is just not a very “sexy” thing to talk about. Here’s what I mean by that:
- If I write a post that describes some new type of workout and then I go on to say that after doing it consistently for three months, I was able to knock 10 minutes off of my half marathon time, that’s sexy – new workouts are always fun to try and who wouldn’t want to be a faster runner?
- If I write a post that describes a new diet and I go on to say that eating that way helped me to lose 20 lbs in 6 weeks, that’s also sexy – who wouldn’t want to try something like that and potentially lose a bunch of weight?
- On the other hand, if I write a post that says “I slept 8 hours last night and then when I got up and went for a run this morning, I felt awesome – everyone should try it!”, that’s not sexy sounding at all because it most likely reminds you of something that your mom used to tell you when you were a little kid and wanted to stay up and watch TV for another hour because you knew that all the good shows came on after 10pm.
The problem is that in this particular case, your mom was probably right…..
These days, a lot of people seem to think of sleep as a time waster – laying down and doing nothing for 1/3 of your day prevents you from getting other more important things done. In fact, even in my own experiences, I’ve already written about how I was able to advance my career in the past by being willing to pull all-nighters at work…. Sadly, this is a theme that’s been pretty common at a lot of companies over the last decade or so – managers are constantly asked to get more work done with fewer resources, so the employees who are willing to “go the extra mile” by staying up all night to finish projects are often viewed as heroes (regardless of the actual quality of their work) while the ones who try to get a good night’s sleep are often perceived as not being as dedicated even if the work they ultimately produce is higher quality….
It isn’t just work that encroaches on our sleeping habits – it’s all of the other things we have going on in our lives as well. When I was in my 20’s, I worked full time during the day and went to school full time at night, and on top of that my mom was starting to get sick around the same time so I spent a fair amount of time doing things with her to help take care of her house. I never really asked anyone for help with any of this stuff – I would usually just stay up late studying and catching up on whatever else I didn’t get a chance to get to during the day…. Sleep was more of an afterthought for me through most of my 20’s (and I’m sure it probably is for a lot of other people too).
Aside from the whole work / life balance thing though, another reason that sleep doesn’t really get the amount of attention that it deserves is that there’s nothing “fun” about sleeping.
When I was in my 20’s (and even my early 30’s), I liked to go out on the weekends and drink with my friends….. and it didn’t take long for me to discover that drinking Jager Bombs and Vodka Red Bulls would help me stay up longer so I could drink even more and have more fun. Sleeping is a waste of time when you can do…………. well, I actually don’t remember most of the things I did back then because I was too drunk.
But I’ve been told that I had a lot of fun.
My point is that there was a time when I took a “work hard, play hard” approach to life and really felt like I had super human strength – I could stay up all night and outwork anyone and then spend my weekends going out and drinking all night and no matter how late I stayed out, I still got up every morning to go for a run.
Impressive, right? Maybe, but do you want to know what’s even more impressive than being able to do all that stuff? Not dying when you’re in your mid 40’s…… The problem is that for a variety of reasons which you’ll see in a minute, not getting enough sleep increases your chance of dying young, so while sleep itself may not be the sexiest thing in the world, the side effects of not sleeping are even less sexy:
- Increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Decreased ability to concentrate and Impaired judgement
- Low sex drive
- The list goes on….
And the list above doesn’t even include the fact that when you don’t get enough sleep, you usually end up being too tired to care about your diet…. which leads to eating more junk food…. which leads to even more health concerns resulting in a constant downward spiral that ultimately tears your body apart both physically and mentally. I don’t even want to think about the damage that I probably did to my body after living like that for as long as I did and I’m glad I finally figured out that among other things, slowing down and getting the right amount of sleep every night is important, even though my life may seem to be a little less exciting these days (it’s really not though and I’ll get to that in a minute).
So if you’re experiencing some of the same issues that I did, what’s the solution? It’s actually pretty straightforward – go to bed early every night and make sure you get a full night of sleep. That’s all there is to it. I know you have a lot of things that you need to get done and sleep seems to be the easiest thing to sacrifice so that you can fit everything into your day, but trust me when I say that you’ll eventually learn that it isn’t.
And yep, I completely understand the whole work / life balance thing and what it’s like to have a really fast paced life with lot of stuff on your plate or even wanting to stay out all night with your friends. I’ve been there, done that, and there’s really no excuse that anyone can give me that will make me believe that it’s OK to skimp on sleep.
- After I left the company I pulled all of the all-nighters for, it eventually got bought by another company and management decided to eliminate my old position. Nobody cared how many times I stayed up all night doing work for them – if I was still working there at the time, I would have been fired. So did all that lack of sleep really make any difference in the long run? Not really….
- Thinking back, I also would have been a lot less stressed and been able to sleep more if I would have taken fewer college courses at the same time or reached out and asked for some help with my mom…. and everything still would have ultimately ended up the same way. It’s hard to see things like that at the time and it’s only through experience that you learn to take a step back and look at the bigger picture but if you’re in a situation like that, I’d encourage you to try and do it.
- This last point is probably the hardest – I can’t say that I didn’t have fun staying out all night with my friends when I was younger. I probably did a lot of stupid things because of all the alcohol that was involved (more on that in a different post) but at the end of the day, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time. The key with that though is moderation – I still like to go out every once in a while but I can also honestly say that over the last few years I’ve had so many new opportunities to travel and experience some amazing new things both personally and professionally that have dwarfed any of the experiences I had at the bars when I was younger that it just isn’t a priority for me anymore. I can attribute all of that in at least some way to living a healthier lifestyle that includes getting enough sleep. And while you probably won’t hear any more “wow I can’t believe you did that” stories about me staying up all night and still going for a run the next morning from my neighbors, I enjoy my long runs a lot more these days and I love the fact that the extra energy that I get from getting a good night’s sleep the night before helps me to push myself harder and longer than I used to be able to even when I was younger.
Not too long ago, I was asked do try something – the person who brought it up to me called it the Sleep Challenge but if you actually Google the words “Sleep Challenge” you’ll find a bunch of other um… “interesting”…. unrelated results so I don’t know if there’s actually a name for this or not but the concept is really straightforward:
For the next two weeks, no matter what you’re doing or how much you have on your plate, go to bed early and make sure you get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Sound easy? It probably does until you actually try it. The first few days are the hardest because you really won’t grasp how many distractions there are that you need to turn off and teach yourself to ignore before going to sleep each night until you make a conscious effort to try and do it. But if you do, I guarantee that even after the first week, you’ll start to feel noticeably better both physically and mentally.
If anyone decides to give this a try, I’d be interested to hear how it goes.