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 am||wake up, brush teeth, check on pets|
|5:20 - 6:00 am||check cryptocurrency portfolio on computer, place / adjust orders for the day on Poloniex exchange|
|6:00 - 7:30 am||shower, shave, get ready for work|
|7:30 - 9:00 am||commute 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 pm||commute home on the train, write Steemit blogs using Notes app on my iPhone|
|7:30 - 8:00 pm||change out of work clothes, do house chores|
|8:00 - 9:00 pm||dinner with family|
|9:00 - 10:00 pm||rest time (read a book, spend time with family, watch TV)|
|10:00 - 11:00 pm||check cryptocurrency portfolio again, adjust / set orders on Poloniex which I hope will trigger overnight|
|11:00 pm||bed 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.
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.
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.