Cat sleeping on sofa

“Awake, But At What Cost” : My Relationship With Sleep

My all time favorite meme is that one cat that didn’t get enough sleep.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an image I related to more. Sleep is like a cruel lover to me – I want it so much, but it plays games with me, sometimes evading me for days, sometimes appearing out of nowhere when I least expect it.

I often unironically say that sleep is a hobby of mine – I dedicate a lot of time to both studying and practicing it. However, I still feel that I am far from mastering it. Here’s what I know as of now.

Morning People And Night Owls Are Real

As a fellow night owl, I refused to believe that actual morning people exist. I knew that you could train yourself to wake up early (and I often tried), but I didn’t think there’s an actual, built-in preference for that.

When I was in middle school, my family adopted a puppy. He is the cutest labrador ever, and at the time he was specifically my dog, so I had to take him on all his walks. I would jolt up at 5AM to go out with him for 30 minutes, then go home and play MapleStory (an online multiplayer game) for two and a half hours, just to be late for school. My dad was so confused. He often asked “Why don’t you just get up at 7, take the dog out, and get ready for school?? You can spend the same time playing in the evening!”. I don’t know how to explain it but tearing myself out of bed at 5 was easier than at 7 for some reason.

There have been a few more episodes in my life when I woke up early, which solidified my belief in trainable waking hours. Alas, every time I let go of my morning discipline, I relapse. I have been unemployed for a whole year during covid, and I decided not to set an alarm clock. In no time, my sleep schedule shifted to be going to bed around 1-2AM and waking up somewhere around 9-10AM.

This led me to think that maybe we’re all just sleep in if we have the chance. Then, I moved in with my boyfriend. The madman wakes up around 5-6AM every damn morning, without an alarm. He explains that by needing to use the bathroom – but why not go back to sleep after?! He also starts getting sleepy and groggy after 10PM, much like I am before 10AM.

How my cat and I look at my boyfriend when he gets up

These days I have a pretty flexible work schedule so I don’t set an alarm most nights, but I do sometimes go to sleep early – be it because of a tiring day, or because my partner went to bed early and I want to join him. But even if I fall asleep by 10PM, I will only wake up and be ready to get out of bed by 8-9AM at minimum – and if by some miracle I got up earlier, I’m gonna need a nap.

Actionable Steps

While it’s possible to shift your sleep-wake cycle, it often requires tremendous amounts of energy. It’s up to each person to decide if it’s worth it. I believe there will be more periods in my life when waking up early will be worth the effort. Still, when possible, I prefer to set up my day to match my sleep preference rather than the other way around.

Not All Sleep Is Good Sleep

In particular, sleep that goes against one’s natural sleep cycles, or sleeping in uncomfortable conditions, is more impactful than I thought.

Obviously, it’s uncomfortable to sleep in an awkward position and wake up all sore and groggy – but even conditions that are barely noticeable in the moment can affect the sleep quality to the point of making or breaking your day.

The room being slightly too hot, the blanket a little bit too heavy, a partner that keeps kicking you in their sleep – even if none of these wakes you up or affects how you feel when you wake up in the morning, your day will probably feel more tiring and exhausting than if you slept in more optimal conditions.

Actionable Steps

Let me tell you, finding optimal conditions is HARD. To me, it feels like communicating with a person that you can’t see or directly talk to, but have to go off by hints they leave after them.

My head hurt this morning? Hmm, maybe the sleeping Anna didn’t like that sleeping oil I used last evening, the smell might’ve been a tad too strong. My neck hurts? Perhaps the sleeping Anna didn’t appreciate the heaps of stuffed animals I love to hug while falling asleep.

There’s no magic pill(ow) here – it’s all just trial and error. The only practical suggestion I might give here is keeping track of what you try and how it feels the day after. When I was closely monitoring my sleep, I used to jot down my observations twice a day – right before sleep I would log how I felt that day and what am I preparing for the night. In the morning I wrote down how I feel and how hard it is to wake up.

Sleep Hygiene Is Important

Continuing with the topic of optimal sleep conditions, what you do outside of your actual sleeping hours matters, too! I’m so mad about it.

For the longest time I was sure that caffeine did not affect my sleep, because I had no issues falling asleep after a cup of coffee or an energy drink. But apparently, it doesn’t work like that! Same with screens before bed and evening exercise. Even if falling asleep was easy, the brain and the body don’t recover as well with these conditions. I truly tried getting into the chemistry and biology of it, but I am not ashamed to say – I failed. You can check out these articles though, if you want to try it for yourselves.

Actionable Steps

Do your research! Not everything will apply to you, but give it the scientific treatment. Try every recommendation for a couple of weeks and see how it affects you. Remember that not everything will work in a matter of a single night. And as with the previous point – logging everything makes it so much easier to come to conclusions.

I’m still working on my ideal sleep schedule and setting, including looking for a comfortable morning and evening routines, as well as logging things that make me feel well rested when I wake up and energetic throughout the day. But the one insight I want you to take out of this article, is how important and personal your sleeping habits are. Question the standards and recommendations, listen to your body, and may Morpheus never betray you.






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