Unlocking The Rewards Of A Truly Rested Life

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

It’s 3AM and I’m writing an article that’s due in five hours. As I attempt to capture the exact flavor of a chicken nugget I tried days earlier, I’m filled with irrational anger. I’m angry at myself for not starting earlier, and chicken nuggets for existing, and my editor for daring to give me work. In these wee morning hours, when procrastination has forced me to stay up all night, I’m angry at the whole world.

Why? Because I should be asleep. Resting. Getting some shut eye.

* * *

In my 20s, sleep was a cumulative game. It was less about eight hours a night and more about bargaining back and forth to make up for any loss. If I stayed up until it was time for class, I could sleep all afternoon the next day. It all evened out, in the long run. It was a fast and loose approach to a night of z’s that felt acceptable at 22 — go hard, recover, and bounce back.

But hitting 28 or so messes with your ability to make up for sleep debt. Suddenly, losing a night of sleep comes with consequences that don’t seem to be erased simply by “catching up” over the weekend. A couple of crappy (or alternatively extra fun) nights and you’re sure to feel it for days. Everything requires a massive effort. The world is grayer.

Knowing this about myself, I’ve tried to make sleep a priority these past few years. Then, seven months ago, I had a baby. It changed everything. Because having a kid is intense and beautiful and utterly insane. And sleep? That’s the first thing to go. The first few months with a baby involve the kind of horrific sleep torture you would only wish on Satan himself (and the woman at a party last weekend who said to me, “How funny! To see a woman holding a baby and a glass of wine at the same time!”).

Sure, as the months go on, it gets better. Babies do sleep eventually. But my sleep seems to have forever changed. For the first time in my life, I’m a light sleeper, jumping at every sound. Living in the breathless, constant fear that every noise means an apocalyptic event, aka “the baby is up.” For young parents, the baby waking up is at least as bad as the supervolcano under Yellowstone going off and killing us all. Probably worse. So while I am mostly getting an okay amount of sleep again, 5-7 hours on the weeknights, and maybe 8-9 on the weekend, it’s not good sleep. It’s not the relaxing, luxuriating-under-the-covers quality sleep that I was used to.

Which all goes to explain why, when my editor called me and proposed an experiment, one in which I would get too much sleep. I couldn’t believe my luck.

“What do you think about trying to sleep 12 hours a night for a week?” he asked. “Hello? Allison?”

I must’ve dropped the phone as I sprinted toward my bed. By the time Steve gave up on getting an official answer out of me I was already horizontal, hard at work. Finally, for the first time in months, I was being given an excuse to prioritize sleep. And I was going to take it.

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