How Upping My Sleep Game Helped Me Adjust To Sleeping Less

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I’ve always distrusted people who sleep less than six hours per night. This is unfair and irrational, but it’s the truth. When someone mentions to me that they “hardly ever sleep,” I think more of an Edgar Allan Poe villain, burying people in wine cellars than I do of some highly productive world beater.

Again, to be clear, this is a personal bias. I’m sure that there are lots of people who sleep less than six hours who are balanced, kind individuals. There might even be a few outliers who sleep only four to five hours per night and still somehow manage to survive without becoming completely unhinged…though I struggle to fathom it.

My hyperbolic stance on sleep comes from the fact that I’ve always needed a lot of it. I’m not at my best without a solid eight-hour per day average spread across a 72-hour period. Luckily, I can sleep wherever and whenever, no matter what else is going on. I’ve slept on a tiny rowboat floating down the Mekong Delta; on a row of plastic chairs on a massive barge crossing between Indonesian islands; and on the Greyhound Bus as I zigzagged around the country for months at a time.

Every time I try to fall asleep, it happens so quickly that people think I’m trying to make a joke. It’s a weird thing about me and my body, I suppose.

Because sleep has never been tough to come by, and because I’ve generally been able to find 24 hours to sleep in any 72-hour stretch, I actually spend very little time thinking about sleep. I’ve never had the need to fantasize about it, because I actually get it.

That is, until recently, when I stopped freelancing full-time and got a full time position. My first few months on the job were like trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose — I was learning and adjusting and spitting out business buzzwords like “bandwidth” and “pivot.” I was also working at a high volume and pace, and my work life was permeating deep into my mental landscape.

As a result, I started sleeping less.

After a few weeks on the job, I was down to six hours per night — an average which, in my opinion, ought to be reserved exclusively for maniacs and people with newborns. I’ve always had the habit of waking up for a few minutes at 6 a.m. and now, with the new job, rather than paging through a novel and rolling over, I started reaching for my laptop. You know, “get an early jump on the day” and all of that.

For the first time in 35 years, I even began to drink coffee. With a novel due from my publisher and endless work projects on the horizon, I realized that my quantity of sleep wasn’t about to improve for awhile — so I began to focus on quality instead. Not surprisingly, I learned that the quality of your shut eye is crucial to the whole operation. Some say it’s the most important part.

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