0215 – why do I not sleep better?

This is the most important question in my life right now. If I sleep better, I have more clarity of mind. I make better decisions. I wake earlier, and when I wake earlier I’m likelier to do my morning reflections, go for a run, plan my day and so on.

Sleep is an astoundingly powerful first principle and I’m definitely underestimating it. To make things worse, sleep deprivation diminishes my consciousness- I become groggy and muddled. I take longer to make simple decisions, and I make bad calls.

I’ve quit smoking. I’ve started eating healthier. [1] I’m somewhat more systematic at work- that’s still a work in progress. [2] I’ve started exercising- also a work in progress. [3]

But sleep… I’ve still been stuck in my current state for quite a while.

First step to improving sleep was to get a house of my own. I sleep better in my own home. Then we got a screen to block out the night lights. Then we taped up all the little lights to make the room almost pitch black. We bought air conditioning for the warm nights. Everything I need for the physical sleeping experience is there- ideally I’d like a bigger room with a bigger bed but that’s in the future. What can I do for myself now?

My main problem is that I don’t prioritise sleep the way I’m learning to prioritise, say, exercise. It seems like I’ve simply never learnt to prioritise anything ever. [4]

So I need to make sleep a priority. Am I aware that this is true, is there some weight behind it? Yes. I have many data points telling me that sleep is good and not sleeping is bad, and that Life Is Better when I sleep early. I’ve been writing about this for years, hoping perhaps that when I finally need or decide to make the decision, I already have all the evidence I need. [5]

Well, it’s time to make the decision. Sleep is an important priority. I want to improve my quality of life. Sleep directly achieves that, AND puts me in a better state to make even better decisions about everything else. It’s clearly important and I have to prioritise it. This is the statement of intent.

Why is this even necessary? Why am I not already sleeping well- what is competing? Work, play. I have a habit of thinking/feeling that I need to do more work at night, that I need to squeeze in more of everything at night because I won’t have time to do anything. It’s all dark playground and mixed feelings park.

I feel like I’m overcomplicating things at this point. I don’t sleep early firstly because I’ve been a habitual late sleeper. If I sleep late regularly, then I’m going to keep sleeping late- the habit perpetuates. If I want to get out of the cycle I’m going to have to intentionally, willfully break it, even if there’s no good reason why it’s been like that.

What’s keeping me from sleeping earlier? I guess I worry that I won’t wake early if I sleep early- it feels like if I sleep early, I just sleep longer and end up waking up late anyway, and not at all well-rested, so it feels like it doesn’t make any difference. But I know intellectually that doesn’t make sense- sleep is ultimately like calories. If you consume more calories than you expend, you’re eventually going to gain weight. And if you sleep early enough, and longer for a few hours, you’re going to be more well rested. I must have all sorts of sleep debt that I need to recover from.

So I guess I should be okay with sleeping earlier for a few days- up to a month, maybe. If I sleep early and still wake late a month later, then that’s a problem. But it shouldn’t last more than a week or two. Then I should start waking earlier.

I also need to have a sleep ritual of sorts- start shutting down my computers and screens, and maybe get in bed with a book. That should make a sizeable difference. I’m going to do that. We’ll see how it goes.

[1] It started with the Big Bird salad wrap at Salad Stop. Every time I eat it I feel my eyes brighten- I feel fresher and more clear headed. Ingredients include avocado, grapes, turkey breast, celery. My wife has since persuaded me to eat more of such things.

[2] This is probably my next most important question after sleep. Why have I taken so long to get systematic at work? Why do I keep switching between systems, which is the most important? Which is the most effective and how do I stick to it?

[3] Pull ups, burpees and short sprinty-runs seem to be working well for me. Not sure if I should tamper or tinker with that. I should probably just start measuring them.

[4] Is this actually true? How about in things I like, such as video games? [A] Or- well, even in writing. I’m only JUST learning to prioritise a single train of thought. Previously my word vomits would be completely unstructured and I’d pursue every single new train of thought. Now I at least know to relegate these side thoughts to footnotes. If I need/want to, I can always expand on them later. But making them into footnotes has this lovely effect of reminding me that there’s a main body that I need to get back to.

[A] Do I prioritise in video games? Doesn’t actually seem to be the case. I tend to just repeat the same bits over and over and over again.

For all my brains, a remarkable amount of my approach to things is “just stick with it and you’ll eventually figure it out.” Of course, “eventually” also means developing structures and systems out of chaos. So perhaps it’s a sort of Oedipal scenario where to avoid doing X, you do Y… which is a road that lead to doing X. Initial annoyance aside, it’s all irrelevant as long as the quest is fulfilled.

[5] This thought makes me a little emotional. It’s like I’m playing this elaborate team game with myself- I can’t make the best decision now, perhaps because of time blindness, but I’m going to make damn sure that future me has everything he needs to make an informed decision.

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