Even though you know you need eight hours of sleep a night, you probably sleep much less than that. Me, too. Tonight, for example, when I should have been going to bed I made cupcakes for my son's classroom. I was so tired that I doubled the amount of sugar, and baked them anyway. They came out squishy from so much sugar, but, per my son's request, I added green frosting and silver sprinkles on top anyway. I said to myself, “These are absolutely the most disgusting cupcakes ever.” Then, two hours later, when I feared I was too tired to stay up to write a column, I ate three cupcakes.
I told myself I would never stay up late for work again. But then I worried that I was probably lying to myself. So in an effort to really reform myself I have constructed a list of things to remember next time I see the clock strike 10 p.m. and I make no move to go to bed.
1. Sleep deprivation makes you act drunk. Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported that if you stay up for 18 — 20 hours in a row, your mental capacities are the same as those with a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent, which is the legal driving limit.
2. You are smarter if you sleep enough. Scientists at the University of Luebeck found that when you sleep eight hours you solve problems that you cannot solve when you have not slept enough. So pulling an all-nighter seems fine, if you don't have to be smart the next day. But a lot of sleep-short nights mean a lot of stupid days. And sooner or later, it won't matter if you have the capacity, somewhere, to be brilliant. If you don't ever exhibit it because you never sleep, then for all intents and purposes, you are a slow thinker.
3. Creativity happens after a good sleep. Maybe the manic can get away with no sleep, but for the typically calibrated worker, sleep allows the brain to synthesize in ways that precede a great idea. Dmitri Mendeleev came up with the periodic table of elements by dreaming it. And Laurie Halse Anderson won a National Book Award Nomination for Speak, a book she dreamed and then woke up and wrote.
4. People who don't sleep are in denial. I have heard so many people say, “I don't need eight hours.” Okay. Fine. You need seven. But unless you're over 65, you need at least seven hours. You lie to yourself when you say you don't need the sleep, and the person who is hurt by the lie is you, because you never allow yourself to be your best self during the day. You never get to see what you can really do.
4a. I, by the way am not one of those people who says I don't need sleep. I always want more sleep. But I'm still in denial. I am in denial all day, leading up to the sleep deprivation. I have opportunities to get the most important stuff done but instead, I do easy, unimportant things, like answer random emails. I keep saying to myself, “I have time, I have time.” But I don't have time. Not if I'm going to get eight hours sleep.
5. The just-before-sleep part is magic. One of my favorite sensations is lying down to sleep but not falling asleep right away. My mind clears up, and I see all kinds of things that the tumult of the day obscured. Lying on the pillow with nothing to do is a luxurious feeling. But if I'm not getting enough sleep, that time is gone; I fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow.
Like all good addicts, I am telling myself, as I do this sleep deprivation thing tonight, that I'll never do it again. But really, I think getting enough sleep takes a huge commitment. You need to reorganize your life so that when it's time to go to bed, you've finished all the essentials. And you need to make getting enough sleep and essential. I say “you” because I'm not quite sure that I'm there yet. But now at least I have a list of reminders for next time I see my bedtime slipping by.