Is sleep the new kale?

Jen tried to get good sleep — and failed. Here is why she prefers to stay up late and chooses not to prioritize sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene photo
Jen in the mid-’80s: Not the last time I fell asleep at the dinner table. (Photo cred: Probably my mom)

Don’t get me wrong, both are pretty cool — but is all that hype justified?

Confession: I’m not totally on board with the sleep hygiene (i.e., keeping healthy sleep habits) craze. I know that’s controversial. And I know that if sleep hygiene crusader/media mogul Arianna Huffington knew who I was, she might have words for me. And yes, I also know about the scary things people are saying about sleep deprivation nowadays.

But hear me out.

Sleep is cool, and feeling rested is cool. I’m not saying they’re not. It’s just — they’re not cool enough to make me keep “healthy” sleep habits.

The “Sam-I-Am” of sleeping

Just to be clear, this is not about difficulty falling asleep, but difficulty prioritizing sleep. Sorry to brag, but I am an excellent sleeper — a fact that’s apparently held true since I was two weeks old. I can sleep in a car, on a bus, after a cup of coffee, on a floor, at an outdoor sporting event in winter, sitting on a dining room chair, with the lights on, at a loud concert, while standing up on the subway — you name it, I’ve probably succeeded at sleeping there.

I’m like the “Sam-I-Am” of sleeping. So it’s true that I probably take sleep and its importance for granted.

Why I can’t go all in on sleep

Here’s my situation: I work a demanding full-time job that sometimes creeps beyond 9 to 6. I have two little kids. And I’ve spent the last year creating this little website called The Juggle with these wonderful women. While also taking classes one or two nights a week. And working the occasional freelance gig. And maintaining friendships and trying to make time for my relationship with my husband. I know some of this is my own fault, but I refuse to give any of it up; I believe it’s all necessary for my mental well-being.

And there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Period.

As a result, my sleep habits are all over the map. I go to sleep at a different time every night — sometimes I crash at 8 p.m., sometimes I make it to 2 or 3 a.m. Sometimes I fall asleep putting my kids to bed and then wake up in the middle of the night and pull out my laptop. I love being productive when it’s quiet and dark in the middle of the night. It’s like stolen time that only I get to enjoy. I know, you’re totally appalled. But that’s when I find my best rhythm — that “flow” people always talk about.

Nevertheless, after a particularly rough and sleep-deprived few weeks, I let curiosity get the best of me and decided to do a healthy-sleep experiment. I did this for two reasons — first, to write about it, and second, because I was super exhausted and burned out. I’d hit my max. (In fact, I actually quit smoking in my early 20s for a similar reason. I’d smoked waaaay too many cigarettes one time, then woke up feeling like death and decided that was it. I relapsed a few times but mostly didn’t look back. But I digress.)

I’ll admit that the experiment was kind of awesome — but I gave up after less than two weeks.

Here’s what I did

I wanted to really commit to this experiment and reduce the variables that can interfere with a healthy/natural sleep cycle. So I quit coffee (slowly, over the first couple days of the experiment to save myself from caffeine withdrawal) and limited my alcohol intake. I aimed for seven hours of sleep per night. I wasn’t always successful, but I’d say I averaged six to seven hours plus occasional naps. (Naps, by the way, are something I fully endorse. If you know of any workplaces that allow naps or have one of these, please send them my resume.)

The results

Honestly, it was a major improvement over the way I’d been living. I felt great. I was nicer to people, and more patient with my kids. I liked my job more. I was more productive and better able to focus. I think I was generally more pleasant to be around. I even wrote in my journal on day five: “I’m like a whole new me. I never used to understand when people said they couldn’t function without sleep. But if this is what it’s like to function WITH sleep, then I wasn’t really functioning before.”

But then, around day 10, I realized I didn’t feel euphoric anymore. I had a couple of what I’d call bad productivity days, where I couldn’t seem to get anything done (which is something I’d felt like the sleep was helping). Then I had a couple deadlines looming that kept me up super late. And I started drinking coffee again.

Basically, it all went to shit. The cycle started back up: Erratic sleep behavior. Coffee around the clock. The whole deal.

Embracing the tradeoff

OK sleep hygiene enthusiasts, I see your point — kind of. But I just can’t make myself do it.

Life, after all, is about tradeoffs. And what I’ve realized is that more sleep would probably be beneficial, but I value the others things in my life more.

Besides, isn’t that the whole point of adulthood? To stay up late and not have anyone make you go to bed?

Kindred spirit? Think I’m insane? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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