This summer I read an excellent book by Arianna Huffington titled Thrive. Part of the wisdom contained in this book is an entire section about sleep. Huffington underscores what medical experts are all proclaiming – most of us are seriously sleep deprived. My favorite practical idea she suggested was to treat our bedtime like a deadline.
We face deadlines all day long – and most of them we take quite seriously. Our work meetings. Yoga class. Picking up a daughter from school. Doctor’s appointments. But too many of us are quite random when it comes time to turn out the lights. There’s always one more load of laundry to do, one more episode of House of Cards to watch, one more chapter to read, or, most of all, a few more emails to respond to. The problems is we don’t have much flexibility when it comes to the morning alarm clock.
Huffington urges us to first determine through brutal honesty and experimentation how many hours of sleep we need each night to thrive. This is where a whole lot of denial or pride step in – we want to be known as the Energizer Bunny who can flourish with a mere 4 or 5 hours on a regular basis. But that is actually not sustainable and incredibly unhealthy over the long haul. The average range is between 7 and 9 hours per night. Once we know our “sleep number” (and I’m not talking about those magic mattresses), we back up our wake-up call and establish a bedtime deadline. A deadline we will treat like a hugely important meeting. Because it is.
My older daughter, Samantha, has been seriously sleep deprived for several months working too many jobs and trying to make her way as an artist in Brooklyn. Currently she is on a 3 ½ week writing break, all by herself at a friend’s condo down in Florida. I bought her a copy of Thrive, and she is getting about twice as much sleep as she usually gets. When I talk to her on the phone, I can hear the difference in her voice. She sounds fully alive, back to her delightful and funny self. We’ll see if she can sustain this when she returns to her real life. I hope at least some of this sticks.
If you are in a season with young children, especially infants, I know you probably read this with a bit of anger – she doesn’t understand my life! I do remember when sleep was my most precious and rare resource, my favorite thing to do between feedings. In every season of our lives, we will need to make adjustments in our attempt to be healthy. If you are way off in terms of total sleep, start with an extra half hour a night a slowly work your way back to health. Pretend you have a vital meeting with your pillow!