Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sleep is the New Productivity

Ironically, I am writing this post about sleep from the balcony of our apartment while I am watching the sunrise. This is definitely not my usual morning routine. On a typical weekday morning, Mark Johnson gets up at 6:00 AM while I lay in bed trying to quiet my mind so I can get a little more sleep. After he leaves for work, I usually sleep until around 8:00 AM, or I may even let myself sleep longer if I am really tired.

I have always loved to sleep, but since I got sick a few years ago, it has become much more important in my life. I can't survive without my eight hours of sleep. Or, I guess I should say that I can't thrive without my eight hours of sleep. As we humans have proven time and time again, we can survive almost anything. But I don't think we should have to go through life just "surviving" from one day to the next.

This morning I had to sacrifice a few of my precious hours of sleep to ensure that I had access to another one of life's necessities. Hot water. Yesterday, there was a water main break at the apartment complex and they told us a work crew would be here first thing in the morning to repair it and that the water in our building would be shut off until the work was completed. The term "first thing in the morning" means different things to different people, but I am pretty sure the city workers get started before my typical waking time, so I got up with Mark Johnson and took my shower early today.

We have been reading a book called Perfect Health, by Deepak Chopra. It is all about how to improve your health and well being by living in tune with nature. One of the things Deepak talks about is our sleeping habits. He encourages us to wake with the sun. He goes on to explain that the morning hours are a magical time, as the world is waking up. I never really understood what he meant, but I can see it now. Fifteen minutes ago there was total silence, and now I am hearing a symphony of birds chirping. I started to observe all of these birds flying over the roof of the apartment and then I realized they are bats.

While the birds are just waking up, the bats are rushing home to go to sleep before sunrise. Once you really start watching, you can easily tell the difference between the birds and the bats. The birds have longer and more graceful strokes of their wings, with a pause in between flaps as they glide through the air with effortless ease. The bats are flapping their wings constantly and rapidly, as if they would fall out of the sky if they stopped. And the birds tend to fly in unison with each other, while the flight of the bats is much more erratic. At times it looks like they might crash into each other in mid-air. They are like the drunken masses stumbling home on their flight of shame after spending the night out partying and eating too many spiders and bugs.

Anyway, why am I sitting here on a quiet Wednesday morning writing about the sunrise, aside from the fact that I had to get up unreasonably early to make sure I could take a hot shower today? I guess waking up early with Mark Johnson today made me think about how it might be good practice for a time in the not-so-distant future when I have a job that requires me to wake up early and go to an actual office.

I am doing pretty well with my freelance writing, but I need to get at least one more client to make it work financially. Last week I had an interview for a part-time grant writing job for a local non-profit. It might be just the solution I am looking for. If I could work there three days a week, it could provide some guaranteed income each month and still allow me two flexible days during the week to take care of my freelance writing clients.

As I try to cobble together some sort of flexible work life that won't require me to sacrifice my quality of life, I am not alone. In fact, it seems that more and more people are trying to branch out and adopt the freelancer lifestyle. I guess I am not the only one who is tired of all of the stress and dissatisfaction that goes along with most corporate jobs.

I have been listening to a book called Thrive, by Arianna Huffington in which she tackles some of the same issues. She is trying to define success in new ways, aside from the typical Western symbols of money and power. She argues that there should be another metric related to our well being that also defines success. And she provides a ton of research to back up her theory. Not only that, but she also provides some examples of companies that are starting to get on board with the idea.

Aetna now has a program that reimburses employees up to $300 per year if they can show that they get at least 7 hours of sleep per night. And other employers such as Google have on-site nap rooms for their employees. If companies are willing to pay their employees to sleep, I have to wonder if there would ever be a time when they would recognize the benefits of a four-day work week? Or a six-hour work day?

Of course, the companies are only doing this to increase productivity and improve their bottom line profits. But at least there is starting to be some sense of harmony between what is good for employers and what is good for their employees.

This is a drastic change from my days working in corporate America where the less you slept and the more you worked, the more successful you were, at least in financial terms. I remember so many presentations at our directors meetings where they would talk in detail and with great pride about the long hours the team had to put in on a project, and all of the personal sacrifices they had to make to get the job done. And then everyone would applaud.

While I really enjoy listening to Arianna Huffington's book and I appreciate her advocacy for these issues, I have to wonder why only the people who are rich and powerful have the luxury of re-defining success. It is easy to take time to smell the roses and enjoy life when you already have more money than you could possibly spend. What is much more challenging is to try and live your life in an authentic manner when you have bills to pay.

There are no easy answers, but I know from my own experience that change has to start at the individual level. For me, that means not trying to be perfect all of the time. And being clear about what I need, whether it is working part-time or having a flexible schedule that allows me to get to my morning yoga class once a week. And most importantly, making sure I get enough sleep.

I have been sitting here for almost an hour and the sun is just starting to make its grand entrance. It is too bright to look directly at it, but I can feel its energy. And my blanket and my robe are bathed in a warm glow. Luckily the railing on our balcony is at the exact right height to provide shade for my eyes, so I can stay out here just a little longer.

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