Sleep is for the weak - or is it?

in health •  3 years ago 


I have a confession to make: I'm addicted to being awake. There are so many demands on my time, I like to make productive use of every minute and not leave unfinished business before I sleep. Yet going to sleep is the best part of my day, and dragging myself out of bed in the morning is arguably the worst. It's just one contradiction in a life that seems filled with them these days.

Back in the day...

When I was in university, the students of the computer science department had an unofficial motto: "sleep is for the weak". And we were damn proud of it, chanting that refrain like a badge of honor at anyone who dared complain of tight project deadlines. The implication was that people who slept too much were lazy and unproductive, not enough of an overachiever for the highly competitive department.

School computer labs frequently turned into impromptu dorms, especially around the end of the academic quarter with final projects coming due. I remember taking a senior level computer graphics course where I practically lived in the computer lab for about a week, slaving away with my partner on an animation of fire-breathing dragons. One workstation became my private office, surrounded by a clutter of hand-drawn storyboards, technical printouts, assorted kitchen supplies, and my trusty pillow.

No fancy 3D modeling package at work here, no sir, this is old-school, hand-crafted line by line in C++ with OpenGL.

Meals were interesting. One guy I knew took to guzzling Campbell's chicken noodle soup, cold, straight out of the can. Now that's hardcore. I lived off dry Cheerios (no milk for me) and sandwiches from a nearby Subway shop. Occasionally our kind TAs (Teaching Assistants) would waddle in, arms laden with snacks (Dorito chips, bottles of soda, trays of veggies & dip) paid for out of their own pockets. As people munched, the TAs would hold midnight office hours, wandering from computer to computer commenting on what they saw.

Sleeping was hard, and personal hygiene inconvenient. When I could keep my eyes open no longer, I'd grab my pillow and curl up under the table, which shadowed me from the harsh overhead lights and muted buzz of conversation from those still awake. A few hours later I would rise, stretching to work out the kinks in my muscles, and shamble into the restroom to splash water on my face and brush my teeth. A little Red Bull for breakfast and I'd be energized & ready to tackle another day.

A permanent pile of sleeping bags tossed in the back of the lab.

Pulling another all-nighter in the lab, circa 2003.

Obviously an unsustainable lifestyle over any extended period of time. But in short bursts "sleep is for the weak" seemed feasible, and my dragons did win first place in the class voting that year. This is only temporary, I kept telling myself, after I graduate and get a real job, I'll have more free time and always get 8 hours of sleep. Right now these are the toughest years of my life.

Fast forward to today...

My youthful sense of invincibility has faded and I no longer believe that sleep is for the weak. On the contrary, getting a good night's sleep takes such effort that anyone who can do it consistently must be either very strong-willed, or a comatose vegetable. Sadly my expectation of getting 8 hours of sleep a night as an adult proved to be way off the mark: I'm lucky if I get 6, and 4-5 is not unusual for an average night.

It's getting to the point where I'm worried for my long-term health. But I just can't seem to help it. I love being awake too much. There's just not enough time to cram everything I want to do into each day. It doesn't help that I have a family, a demanding job, and a time consuming hobby.

Here's what a typical day in my life looks like:

5:00 amwake up, brush teeth, check on pets
5:20 - 6:00 amcheck cryptocurrency portfolio on computer, place / adjust orders for the day on Poloniex exchange
6:00 - 7:30 amshower, shave, get ready for work
7:30 - 9:00 amcommute to work on train, do Steemit commenting / curation, read news about cryptocurrencies
9:00 am - 6:00 pm (sometimes 6:30 or 7:00 pm)be a good corporate worker
6:00 - 7:30 pmcommute home on the train, write Steemit blogs using Notes app on my iPhone
7:30 - 8:00 pmchange out of work clothes, do house chores
8:00 - 9:00 pmdinner with family
9:00 - 10:00 pmrest time (read a book, spend time with family, watch TV)
10:00 - 11:00 pmcheck cryptocurrency portfolio again, adjust / set orders on Poloniex which I hope will trigger overnight
11:00 pmbed time

Sometimes I have to wake up even earlier (4:00 or 4:30 am if I'm scheduled for an early tech support shift at work). As you can see, it's possible for me to get more sleep, but then I'd have to cut out some other activity like playing with my cryptocurrencies or spending quality time with my family (can't cut that out; a happy wife is a happy life, as they say).

When I go too many days without much sleep, it can be a real drag to get through the day. Typically I recharge my batteries over the weekend and feel reasonably peppy on Monday morning. But as Friday approaches, I settle into a more and more zombie-like state, stagger across the work week's finish line on Saturday, and then get ready to do it all over again the following week.

So how do I cope?


Every morning at 10:30 am, like clockwork, I fix myself a good strong cup of joe. The free stuff at the office is pretty crappy so I prefer to bring my own.

Costco has some wonderfully flavorful Lion brand coffee.

Simply tear open a pack, prop it up in your cup like thus, and let hot water filter through it. It's so good you don't even need to add sugar, just a splash of milk to touch it up does the job.

Power naps

In the afternoon on days when work is slow, I tend to let my eyes close and take quick 10-15 minute power naps. It's a good way to relieve eye strain from staring at my computer monitor all day, and clears my brain of distractions so I can re-focus on the task at hand. Of course I don't really sleep, it's just a light doze and typically gets interrupted by phone calls or coworkers with questions, but it lets me survive the day.

Some people take the concept of power naps to extremes. When I worked at Nikko Citi, there was a Japanese guy in the next row over who would spend his whole lunch break sleeping. He'd sprawl out in his office chair, legs outstretched, and throw a coat over his head to block out the light. God help anyone who tried to disturb him for the next hour.

Energy drinks

Japan has a whole thriving industry of "genki" drinks to perk up sleep-deprived office workers. Walk into any convenience store in the country and you'll find a whole rack of these things, some of which are similar in effect to the Red Bull I used to enjoy in university. I experimented with genki drinks back when I taught English for a living, but as I got older I grew unsettled by the way they made my heart race, and now I tend to stay away from them. Coffee gets the job done well enough.

Some of these, like the vitamin C lemon drinks, are harmless enough. Others, though, are strong enough to keep you awake hours past your bed time.

There is something deeply flawed about our hectic modern world!

The very existence of things like genki drinks should set off alarm bells in your head. And I'm not the only one who occasionally nods off at work; I've seen plenty of coworkers start to droop in meetings, only to catch themselves with a start and look around guiltily to see if anyone noticed. I've even seen people sleeping standing up on the train, surrounded by so many warm bodies they couldn't fall over if they wanted to (now that takes serious commitment).

We live in a world of ever increasing complexity, constantly bombarded with dozens of decisions on how to make the best use of our precious time. Competing distractions vie for our ever-shorter attention spans. There is literally not enough time to do everything we want to do. In order to make time to have fun outside of work, or attempt to find alternate sources of income to one day escape the rat race, sleep must be sacrificed on the altar of productivity.

Sometimes I find myself wistfully wondering what it must have been like in centuries past, without constant information overload from our plugged in global culture. Back in those days I imagine it was peaceful. No smartphones constantly pinging notifications at you. Nobody in New York calling you in the middle of the night when some software system halfway around the world malfunctions. No boss expecting you to keep up with your work e-mail while you're on vacation...

But I like to be optimistic; I'm a glass half full kind of guy. So I keep telling myself this is a temporary state of affairs, that eventually I'll find a way to escape corporate slavery & get some sleep. And in the meantime, I'll just keep calm and Steem on.


What are your sleeping habits?

I'm curious to hear how many of my fellow Steemians are also in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation, and what are some ways that you deal with it? Feel free to share your tips & experiences in the comments below!

After you're done commenting, tear your eyeballs away from the screen, switch your phone to silent mode, and go take a well deserved nap!

Oh, and never tell me that sleep is for the weak.

Image credits: the last picture with the moon is taken from Pixabay under Creative Commons CC0 . All other images are my own photographs.

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When I don't have enough sleep, I cannot work out well enough and start putting on weight, this is why I sleep no less than 6 hours.

I also worry about the correlation between sleep loss and weight gain. I used to be very skinny when I was younger, but have gradually been getting more rounded in recent years, especially around the waistline. Got to keep that trend from getting out of control!

I'm prior military AND I was an OTR Trucker for 25 years. Everything you said about minimal sleep, coffee, power naps...times ten.

Until it caught up with me.

Sleep Apnea. Bad ju-ju.

Wow, I bet you've got some interesting stories to tell.

Bad ju-ju it is. My wife's got sleep apnea; she goes to a sleep clinic once a month and uses a C-Pap every night. The sound of that thing drove me crazy at first, but now I'm used to it and it's a comforting sound, like a lullaby to carry me off to the Land of Nod.

Yup...I got's a C-Pap. It's a fairly sophisticated device. Computerized. It makes me sleep HARD. When I go to sleep with it on I'm out like a light until I wake up. It monitors my breathing when I'm asleep.. The other day I had 9 Total Obstructive Apneas and 15 Total Hypopneas. (I have no idea what that means but it sure sounds impressive doesn't it? Don't you just love BaffleGab?) When that happens it automatically adjusts the pressure as necessary. It sends the data to a cloud account in real time via a built in cellular modem. Now I have a record of what happens when I sleep.

Yup..I got stories. I'm telling them too, embedded in my Science Fiction Books and on my Blog on Steemit

come see me @everittdmickey

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Wish I wouldn't have missed this one. Great post. I have a hard time with sleep. I tend to deprive myself for 2 or 3 days because like you, I feel like I'm burning up precious time! After 2 or 3 days of deprivation I see my productivity and general mood and ability to cope hit the shitter, and then I sleep, because there is no other choice.

I hope you can escape! I'm rooting for you.
Thanks for the great read.

Glad you liked it, and the resteem is much appreciated! The kind of sleeping pattern you describe feels depressingly common in this pressure cooker world we live in. I wonder what it is about our nature that makes it so hard to take a more balanced approach. When this happens to me, my family is often the victim as my mood deteriorates and I start snapping at people. Friday is usually the worst day as I tend to be the most sleep deprived then, before I recharge myself over the weekend.

I'm rooting for you too, we're all in this together!

Cutting out the crypto day trading helped me a lot with this issue and based on your schedule it looks like it would benefit you too. That extra 1 hour 45 minutes of sleep each night is just what you need! Perhaps take a more macro view when it comes to trading and adjust your portfolio only once per week, or month even. Margin trading is a sleep killer!

That's good advice! The problem is I'm addicted to micro-managing my portfolio. I always think "oh I'll just spend a few minutes checking my positions", and then I look up and find an hour has passed. But I should force myself to kick this habit and take a more macro view as you say. I tend to do better with longer term swing trades and investments as opposed to short term trading anyway.

I had consistent trouble getting to sleep a couple years back. Ended up with a constant pain in the left side of my head when I went too long without sleep. And then, started having lucid dreams and sleep paralysis episodes. The lucid dreams were cool but the sleep paralysis not so much.

Maybe you should get into lucid dreaming, might be able to get some work done while you sleep.

Heh, lucid dreaming would be awesome! I actually did have the answer to a tough software coding problem come to me in a dream once, during a particularly intense time at work.

Sorry to hear you suffered from sleep paralysis. I don't know much about that, but from the little I've heard, it sounds pretty scary. Hope that didn't last long for you.

Heh, that's crazy. :)
I tend to try to get to bed by about 11, then get up around 6. It varies, but it's pretty consistent. I used to get 8 hrs most nights, but I just don't seem to sleep as long now unless I have a particularly busy day.
When super busy, I can go about three days with short sleep periods. Then my productivity starts to drop off too much to keep it up. A power nap once in a while can extend that, but when that busy it can be hard. Sometimes, it's just necessary though.
I avoid the stimulants, though I do make lattes most mornings. It's not enough caffeine to really make a difference.
Now you know all my secrets. :P

11 to 6 sounds pretty reasonable, that's 7 hours per night. If I could shave a bit of time off my morning & evening activities, getting that much sleep consistently would be a good goal to aim for. 6 hours is about the minimum I need, anything less and it's hard to get through the day.

Three days with short sleep periods is about my max too, then I need a couple days to recharge.

oh sometimes a can sleep only 3 hours, sometimes 7, but never more, When it passes 7 hours i just wake up. If i sleep longer i feel kind of guilty afterwards

Never feel guilty about sleeping! Unless you sleep in to noon on a Saturday or Sunday. When I do that, I feel annoyed with myself for wasting so much precious weekend time.

Right now it is four in the morning, and I am yet to sleep. I'll probably go crash after I finish the translation I am working on, probably in another hour or so. I usually get up around 10-11 am. A lot of times I go to sleep much earlier, but it just goes up and down.
Oh, I've also had some really weird sleeping times. For example around 2004 I had head trauma, and for a couple of years after that it was impossible for me to sleep at night. Sun is up? I can get my sleep. I coped by finding work, where I cold do night shifts.

There was also that one time, when I worked for 5 days straight. That is some 140 or so hours, and I did get about one, maybe one and a half hours of sleep in. I talked about it as a part of Crazy challenge. Also it has a cartoon, you could show them to your daughter. Youtube has more of them from our cartoon studio, that I used to work for back in 2007.

Oh man, that sounds rough. But there's something kind of nice about the idea of sleeping during the day and working at night. At night it's quieter and more peaceful, less traffic on the roads. And I bet night shifts pay more.

I used to stay up until the wee hours of the morning like you on the weekends, but stopped doing it after a while. It was just too hard to do that and then shift back to a more regular sleeping schedule for the work week.

5 days straight sounds insane! I can't imagine how you got through that. Definitely going to check out your link, thanks for sharing.

Nope, same thing as day shifts. And they are much more hectic, if your clients are all in America. But this is probably something that I should devote a whole post to. You know. A night shift. On New Years eve (in Russia that is essencially the big celebration instead of Christmass). As a trch support in an online casino, that just went live. And right after midnight the post opening promotion starts. That was fun. The phone starts buzzing like crazy once you place the receiver down the hook. And I think we had about a hundred emails per minute. Dunno, I remember that it took others about a week to answer them all. But for me it was ok. I did that one shift that noone wanted, but I'd have the rest of the holidays for myself. :-D

Man that's intense! You should do a post on it, sounds like a great story waiting to be told. I do tech support myself for internal business users, so I can sympathize with how crazy it can get during busy times. And New Year's Eve is a heck of a time to be going live with a new venture.

I've always been a light sleeper and in the last few years, it's been much worse. My sleep can range from next-to-nothing to maybe 6-7 hours. But I've been doing lots of research and trying lots of things and am at last seeing some improvement. There's a part of me that desperately wants to sleep, but I also relate to being addicted to being awake.
I've just started writing a series of articles about sleep. The first one is at
One of the ones I've got planned is to talk about different sleeping styles, and how much sleep we really need, which you might find interesting

Thanks for the link, sounds interesting and I will definitely take a look. Glad to hear your experiments are having some positive results! Trying lots of things, seeing what works and what doesn't, that's ultimately the only way to move forward.