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.
Which led to a dramatic step: I got a mattress.
It may sound less bold and dashing than it felt, but it was a brand new experience for me. My bed frame is a futon with three missing slats, and my mattress, up until last week, was a slab of foam I bought at a warehouse. This hasn’t been a financial decision, mind you, it’s just that I never needed to care before — because even if my sleep wasn’t perfect, I was getting plenty of it.
My new mattress, from Casper, arrived at my apartment in a box that was big, but didn’t seem to be big enough to house a comfortable bed. I was vexed by this, fearing disappointment, until I discovered that the mattress was vacuum-sealed. I cut it open and it inflated, more than doubling in size, an effect which pleased me immensely.
At first, I laid the mattress right on my piece of foam, because it heightened my whole bed and made me feel like royalty. Though the drama was nice, the situation didn’t work. There was too much weight on the already weakened futon and everything sagged.
I ditched the foam and settled for putting the new mattress on a futon frame, which was slightly less regal, but far more comfortable. Then I tossed freshly laundered Egyptian cotton sheets on the bed (thread count has always been a big source of discretionary spending for me), and a new pillow, and gave my sleep 2.0 setup a try.
I slept like a baby kitten, swaddled in crushed velvet, sprawled out on a cloud. The differences were minimal, but there were a lot of them, conspiring toward something bigger. I woke up with 10 or 12 fewer little cricks and creaks and plenty of zip, is what I’m saying.
Casper has a whole page on their site about foam density and airflow, rebound speed and firmness — but a mattress is like a pizza: good is good is good. I don’t need to know how hot the pizza oven burns, and I don’t need the specs on the mattress. I don’t know that I’d really understand them. Here’s what I do know: After a few days of adjustment period, I woke up fresher, I stirred less in the night, and I slept better.
And because of that, I was (mostly) okay with the fact that I was getting less sleep.
It’s a big deal to sleep a little better and therefore to be able to sleep a little less without feeling horrible. Especially for someone like me who has very high standards for feeling energized and rested. Every extra waking hour without caffeine or misery is a win. Especially when you consider how every single study reminds us how important sleep is.
When the weekend came around, and I was able to put in a solid nine hours to make up some lost ground, my new bed felt like a nest. I couldn’t imagine sleeping without it — which is how all big purchases ought to feel and very few ever do.
I still don’t trust anyone who claims to sleep only four to five hours, but after upping my sleep game, if I have to settle for six to seven, I know that I can deal with it — a thought which, in and of itself, makes me feel rested.
Story By Luke Harper