Girl Talk: The art of good sleep

Girl Talk: The art of good sleep

Firstly, apologies to all mothers: you may be as outraged at this post as Murdoch's tabloid targets, as this is really indulgent: I have fallen into a deep, deep love with sleep. But this revelation must be put into context: I am formerly a workaholic, exercise-obsessive, perfectionist, annoying-everyone-along-the-way chirpy early bird. And now, I'm a bit older, live on a farm, don't have an alarm.

The comatose change to my constitution started before winter but has kept on its course, often seeing me in bed by 9pm and waking around 7am: that is a full 10 hours. Eek! To my relief, a new study has shown that 10 hours is akin to kryptonite (at least for professional athletes... all 11 of them).

The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that basketball players from Stanford University who were asked to get 10 hours' sleep for five to seven weeks found that they operated at a suboptimal level with the extra 90 or so minutes of snooze time. "It's not that they couldn't function [before] – they were doing fine – but that they might not have been at their full potential," researcher Cheri Mah said. 
What a brilliant scapegoat for lazy folk: I sleep because I want to be at my peak!

The article tempered the excitement, though, with some practicalities: too much sleep can lead to less get-up and go, which is what I've found as my sleep has increased and so too has my girth (winter padding, cuddly kilos... bliss!). Now I eschew an early-morning walk, or late night work session, in favour of more pillow time, I've also found my relationship is in peak condition, too. Surprise!

I admit, I have in the past judged those hedonists who always knew the pleasure of time spent nestled between the sheets, including Penelope Cruz, who believes no less than 15 hours' sleep will do (her record is 18 hours straight). She looks great, for sure, but does she have nothing better to do?

I have wrestled with feelings of guilt over this sleep thing, coming from a home where 5.30-6am is the standard time of rising and any more sleep than that is akin to a sin. Even after a night out until 1am in the city, it was up at 6am again. What's more, that shut-eye time could be spent familiarising myself with the Bible or in "quiet time" with my maker ("get out of bed you sluggard," says a little voice in my head).

But now, with well-rested eyes and head, it's as if the whole world comes to life each day in a way it never had before, in full colour rather than in black and white, which gives me more reason to celebrate life itself as well as my surroundings and the people in it. My temperament is more even, I am less irritable and I feel more nurtured and loved. The hills are alive, Maria!

What's more, it's upped my productivity: I can generally get done in an 8am to 12 noon time slot or from 2 till 6pm, which is how my day usually breaks up, what might have taken me hours more to accomplish before because I'm not fidgety or overly anxious or looking for a snack to fend off the fatigue (no secret, more sleep = less sugary snacky snacky). Also, this attention to the art of sleep has a knock-on effect: it makes me want to nurture myself in other ways, too.

As I do occasionally suffer from late-night wake-ups, I have to also ensure that my appetites have been sated in all sorts of ways to ensure a good sleep: a nutritious meal, relational issues sorted out, TV/computer downtime at least two hours before rest and a reflective prayer thanking God for the day's blessings to send me off to the Land of Nod. I am physically, emotionally and spiritually satiated: everything working in sync. Not always; mostly.

But this itself takes discipline: the sort of discipline that says, 'I'm worthy of not being tired and cranky and overworked', and a little bit of body fat in the quest for more sleep is the price I'm prepared to pay (in fact, it's absolutely necessary for me). Which brings us back to sleep being a part of one's overall performance plan and that insatiable perfectionist streak. 

Last year, UK Glamour editor Cindi Leive joined with Arianna Huffington to start a campaign to help women get more sleep, thereby giving them a more even biological and professional playing field with the boys, which prompted Naomi Wolf to write 'Sleep is a feminist issue' for The Sunday Times:

"The pair make a persuasive case that female exhaustion is undermining women’s creativity, judgment, and relationships," she wrote. "What does it profit us to win the whole world only to experience it cranky and irrational from fatigue? But much as I admire Huffington and Leive, their advocacy for their sleep campaign reveals part of why we are driving ourselves to exhaustion."
And then comes Wolf's kicker: it's in the striving for perfection that sleep is lost. 
"They run business empires, they decide the fates of nations — and they have the kind of bodies you get only if you are on the treadmill at 5am. And they are outperforming expectations in the deliverables of their private lives as well...If we kicked off our shoes at the end of the day, snuggled with a partner, turned off the e-mail, took a nice walk but ignored the treadmilll, and ordered in — if we picked up a bag of muffins at the corner shop on the way out of the house for the damn bake sale — would the sky fall? How about this for a goal: stop setting goals. Feminism taught us how to do — obsessively; now we need to understand that it is also feminist just, sometimes, to be."


I don't have any illusions of this sleep pattern continuing indefinitely. Babies will put a quick stop to that. And in summer, where the days are longer, I do look forward to more time outdoors walking about the place. But in the meantime, I am quite happy to snore some more. 
Girl With a Satchel


Ellise @ Charles Whyte said...

I love your post today Erica. As a lover of sleep, I know that I need a good solid 8 hours to have a great day and do what I need to do without dragging my heels. Conversely, more than 10 hours makes me feel headachey and sluggish so I think it's a matter of finding out what works for each of us as individuals and not feeling pressure to subscribe to others standards.