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I want to talk about sleep. About a year ago, I was seeing a lot of newsbites about the benefits of waking up early. Some of my friends would compete to see who could wake up the earliest—one of them said they were up at 4:30AM just to meditate. There’s nothing wrong with carving out your time in the day, especially if you’re constantly busy. But even some time later, I still see this idealization of the early riser, and it’s come to the point where sometimes I feel guilty for sleeping in until 9AM. This past month, due to my over-booking my schedule, I spent a week waking up at 5:30AM to fit in my schoolwork with my commitments. Terrible time management skills aside, I kinda confirmed what I had learned previously in a course on sleep: waking up early means nothing if you're not sleeping enough.
My anecdote begins with the fact that I drank about two to three shots of espresso within the first hour I was awake. Not many of us drink that much caffeine at once. I did wonder if I should cut back to see if I could stay at optimal functionality, but the pressing nature of my schoolwork left me too worried to chance it. So I kept drinking coffee. But coffee isn’t giving you energy or keeping you awake. It’s just turning off your body’s sleep alarm. Coffee represses the receptors in your brain that tell you when you’re sleepy. Your body still needs that sleep. The only way to get energy is with food. As a result, I started snacking and grazing. After I returned to my normal sleeping schedule, those habits continued.
This is partly because the effects of sleep deprivation don’t go away when you go back to sleeping a regular six to eight hours. When you start sleeping a few hours every day, you start collecting a sleep debt. You can’t just cash it in at the end with a good twelve hours of sleep. Your brain needs sleep to recalibrate and heal every night. Every person needs different amounts but dipping under that individual amount means your brain lost its opportunity to heal. I repeatedly deprived my brain of that chance to rest and heal. My optimal amount of sleep is seven and a half. Even after I crashed and slept nine hours, I was still fuzzy-headed, irritable, and inarticulate in class the next day. I was still constantly hungry because I had yet to feel completely rested. Not to mention my willpower was at nil for a good few days even after the fact.
Of course, not everyone reacts this way to having little sleep. Some people can even thrive on it. That’s just it. We’re all built differently. If we all have varying optimal hours of sleep, then it makes sense that we also have varying optimal times to wake up. Some are late sleepers, even years after leaving university. Others prefer waking with the dawn. I’m an in-betweener, probably the most common. I prefer sleeping around 11 and waking around 8. But, even that isn’t set in stone. Sleeping patterns change with daylight savings time, and even more so the more north we go, where daylight hours shrink in the winter.
Our environment, our caffeine of choice, and our screen time all affects our sleep pattern, but by the time we’re in our final years of university, these optimal times and hours are set. So why should we mess with them? Waking up early to be more productive is an useful tool, debilitating or not. But, if we want to push ourselves to be more productive, I think our bodies will tell us, if we just listen. Instead of pushing yourself for a week like I did.
If you're interested in reading more, kind krafters, I recommend Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep.
Have you ever tried to wake up early, not for work or school, but just to achieve that productive ‘image’?
Let me know what you think.