“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker
It’s not news to any of you that I love sleep. What you may not know is how much sleep played a role in my recovery from my lowest depression a few years ago.
Over time, I had developed a range of bad habits. Building my photography business, training hard for a marathon and subsequent triathlons, picking up my wife’s work when she stepped out to have our son, sacrificing personal “down time” to take on some amazing projects, helping Bel look after our newborn son at all hours of the day and night, and generally just working hard with little or no rest.
I would nod off at the dinner table. I would collapse into bed around 11pm or midnight most nights, before getting up again at 5:45am or 6am to go to the gym, catch up on work, or spend a short amount of time with my kids before I started work again. I was surviving on about 6 hours of sleep a night, and LOTS of coffee.
The key word there is “surviving”. I wasn’t living. I wasn’t really functioning at anywhere my best, but I was terrified of stopping and looking after myself, because I had too many things weighing on my mind and not enough time to do them all.
The notion of self care, or self love, was completely foreign. I wasn’t nurturing my body, I was smashing it to pieces every week at the gym, going on long runs, and starting my swimming and cycling training for the triathlon I was aiming for. I wasn’t giving my body the rest it needed. My brain never shut down. My whole system was in high alert, fight or flight mode, and I was more or less operating on adrenaline and caffeine.
Eventually, it all broke down, and I was diagnosed with depression.
The first thing that saved me was to get enough sleep. I got to bed at 9pm, lights out at 9:30pm, and up around 6am. If you do the maths, that’s about 8.5 hours sleep. Every. Single. Night. Belinda and I both had alarms set on our phones to remind me to get my butt into bed, and the results – while not instant – started to come. (Here’s a brief article with some scientific references, if you want to go down that path.)
I also started removing the array of stresses from my life, such as not training at the gym and punishing my body, not working so hard all the time, and giving myself permission to have a rest day each week. But if I hadn’t started getting more sleep, nothing would have changed as quickly as it did.
Sleep was the key.
Sleep still IS the key.
The past few weeks have seen me working harder than normal (again) and stressing more than normal (again) and getting angry at myself, the kids, and my wife (all over again). After it all blew up in my face last night, I realised the common thread.
I have been going to bed around 10:30 or 11pm for a few weeks now. And with daylight savings, our kids have been getting up around 5 to 5:30am when their bodies wake up. I have been getting up tired, irritated, and unmotivated. I’ve been pushing through this to get started on work, but have been finding that half way through the day I’ve been feeling flat and needing a nap. Then by the afternoon when the kids come home from school and day care, I’ve been feeling like I haven’t gotten enough work done, so I’ve then started to feel guilty that I can’t spend time with them because I have more work to do. I was going on to feel unhappy with how little I accomplished during the day (because I was tired and unfocussed) and I’d feel frustrated at not making headway on the multitude of work and external projects my wife and I have on this year. So I’ve been staying up working, trying to get through it all.
Vicious cycle, right?
It took a big blow up last night for me to realise the connection. I took myself off to bed around 8:30pm, read for 20 mins or so, and then slept straight through from around 9pm to about 6am. 9 hours of glorious, uninterrupted sleep!
I am writing this on the other side of that 9 hours, and I have to say the way I feel is nothing short of miraculous. I feel happy, clear-headed, and light. I feel motivated, fresh, and excited for the first time in a few days, possibly even a week or more.
I didn’t realise how bad I was waking up until this morning. I must do more of this.
Sleep. It really is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.