Ending My Personal Rebellion Against Sleep

There’s a business aphorism that our strengths if overused become weaknesses. For me an overused strength is my plucky determination to take on the system. How this played out over the years is that I have found myself at odds with constraints imposed by the various systems which govern my life, the main one being the constraint to work during typical business hours and the corollary requirement of going to bed at a reasonable hour that that implies. How I manned the barricades in this struggle is by going to bed late at night.  To be fair, I don’t think I am one of those people who must sleep 8 hours a night. I was one of the children who would read under the covers with my Girl Scout

Girl Scout flashlight

Girl Scout Flashlight

flashlight after being put to bed.  I’ve worked a “regular” job for at least twenty-five years for which I have had to arise at typical hours to undertake a morning commute. During those years I have often had commutes of ten to twenty-five to forty miles. But somehow during that time I’ve also been a regular viewer of ye old Late Night with David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Charlie Rose (at midnight) and TLC’s midnight silent movie on Sunday nights. If I went to bed before midnight I really felt like I might be missing something. I could never (and still can’t) understand friends that say they’re in bed by 9:30 at night. I mean, where’s your life, people?

During a routine doctor visit I was once asked if I am tired during the day. I didn’t really understand the question. I mean, that’s what coffee’s for, right? I am pretty sure that I have a baseline standard of how awake I want to feel and that I have varied my consumption of coffee to bring about this result.

Somehow the process of hitting the half-century mark has helped me get a clue about a few things under the general heading of Getting Out of my Own Way. I am aware as that the brain is subject to decline related to age and figure that the least I can do for myself is to keep my cognition at its peak in part by not being a sleep deprived person. The payoff for this is feeling better in the morning. It’s nice being able to get up and shut the alarm off before it goes off and just to wake up feeling fairly well rested. Right now I still average six hours of sleep a night which is an improvement for me believe it or not. I plan to keep fine tuning this protocol until I am actually getting enough sleep but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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Go, go, go, go: STOP

Green tea leaves steeping in an uncovered zhon...

Green Tea

I tend to exercise at night and in general I’ve evolved a lifestyle that includes go-go-going until I am ready to flip the switch into relax and sleep mode a process which usually does not begin until at least 10:30PM. Of course the body doesn’t work that way. Months ago I began drinking a cup of Tension Tamer tea when I am finally ready to settle down.  I have also tried L-Tryptophan which seemed beneficial though the form in which I was taking it was expensive and when I switched to a cheaper one it was  not as pleasant to use and I stopped using it. One beverage that is always relaxing is alcohol. I would sleep even less if it weren’t for this standby.

I do drink less caffeine now than I did even six months ago. I accomplished this by swapping out routine daytime coffee for green tea which I carry around in a really scary looking water bottle. Green tea is good to drink–Tom Venuto recommends about 4 cups per day–because it contains Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which helps the body use fat as fuel when exercising.  About 15 years ago I actually completely stopped using caffeine when a doctor recommended it to reduce fibrocystic breast disease. I was amazed at what a difference that made. The road back was slow and began with my gateway drug Diet Coke. I am happy to report that I have primarily cut that out of my diet–I used to buy it by the box;  now it’s a “treat.” I don’t know what the research is on this but I have a feeling that it gives you brain cancer.

My current philosophy is that being aware of and reflecting on my habits is important even if I can’t do the optimal thing at every turn.