40@40: Learn to Love Sleep

Golden slumbers fill your eyes, smiles await you when you rise.

The Beatles

We Wear Lack of Sleep Like a Badge of Honor

One of the things I have never understood is the sleep deprivation humblebrag.  It’s almost like a game of Name that Tune, except instead of, “I can name that tune in 3 notes,” it’s, “I can function on 3 hours of sleep”

That’s great, but what’s the point? The human body needs 7-8 hours of sleep every night. We know this because science – there’s gobs and gobs of science behind how much sleep we need, and just because you can get away with sleeping for a few hours a night doesn’t mean you’re cheating science…you’re cheating yourself.

You can have your 3 hours of sleep. I’ll take my 8 hours any night and enjoy every minute of it.

Sleep Can Be Better Than Sex

It wasn’t until my ex-wife and I split and I had the bed all to myself did I discover the pure joy of sleep.

No more snoring that could wake the dead. No more stealing the down comforter in the dead of winter, leaving me to shiver myself into a sweat. No more slaps to the face or kicks to the nether regions to jar me awake when she decided to take 95% of the bed instead of her customary 80%.

It was just sleep. 7-8 hours of beautiful, uninterrupted sleep.

What I discovered was that waking up feeling fully rested after years of getting 4-6 hours a night was better than sex. And there isn’t much better than sex.

Your Investment in Sleep Will Pay Huge Dividends

Once I discovered sleep, my productivity and focus improved exponentially. My newfound love of sleep also changed a lot of bad behavior.

I never had a set time when I went to bed, and I used to just wake up whenever. Not allowing my body to get into a natural cadence left me feeling tired and miserable every morning.

Learning to love sleep made me prioritize it and become disciplined in defending the time I needed for uninterrupted sleep at a consistent time each night.

I cut out the mindless late night Netflix binging. I stopped drinking coffee in the afternoon. I stopped going out during the week.

When I was younger, I would go out with my friends and pay zero attention to the clock. I never asked myself, “Do I really need to have another or should I go home?”  I had no boundaries. I got home when I got home.

Now I pay attention to the time, and when the end of the night approaches, I think to myself, “Damn, I bet that bed feels really good.” And it always does.

Naps Are Pretty Amazing

There are periods in our lives when getting a full night’s rest is not an option. When you have a baby, you quickly realize that her sleep schedule is now your sleep schedule.

Babies can always sense when you have a big meeting in the morning, because those are the nights where they choose to be extra fussy.

Early on as a parent, I remember watching my son taking a nap one afternoon. He was out like a light. After another night of waking up every few hours to feed him, change his diaper, or get puked on, I thought to myself, “That looks amazing. I’m going to try it myself.”

And I did. And it was amazing. Since that moment, whenever I don’t feel 100% and there is an opportunity, I will sneak in a 30-45 minute nap. Nothing in the world feels like waking up from a good nap. It’s completely restorative.

Sleep on It

Once you have mastered the basics of sleeping and have discovered just how incredible this basic biological process can feel, you can take things a step further and actually learn to be productive in your sleep.

As an awkward high school kid with braces waiting to see the orthodontist, I remember picking up a copy of Popular Science in the waiting room because it had a provocative cover story about teaching yourself how to control your dreams.

I went home that night and practiced what is called lucid dreaming, which in a nutshell is when you learn how to maintain awareness during your dreams. I followed the process detailed in the article that I ripped out of the magazine and took home with me, and noticed results within days. It was pretty freaky.

At first I thought I could control my dreams, but I very quickly learned that the key was just to know that I was in fact dreaming, and that by becoming a spectator to my own dreams I could gain invaluable insight into how my own mind worked.

25 years later I am still practicing lucid dreaming, and now I have learned to leverage the practice to solve difficult problems by relegating important thoughts to my subconscious mind while I sleep.

When I find myself with a challenge, I don’t force myself to stay up late to keep working on it. I meditate on the problem that I need to solve, I go to bed guilt-free, and inevitably I will wake up not only feeling rested, but I will have a path to a solution in mind, and I will have the energy to find resolution.

I have learned to literally “sleep on it.” I trust this process absolutely, and it has led to deeper levels of focus and understanding than I ever thought were possible.

Sleep not only provides restorative benefits, it can lead to clarity and depth in thinking and help you understand  the world in ways your awake mind would never find on its own.

Did I mention sleep could be better than sex?