How Upping My Sleep Game Helped Me Adjust To Sleeping Less



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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