philosophy, kindness and sleep

Last night, in a contemplative and pensive mood, I flicked through my copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations again. In the time between now and when I last picked it up, I’ve tried reading two other philosophical books: Discourses, Fragments, Handbook of Epictetus; and Human, All Too Human by Friedrich Nietzsche. The former I found to be too dry and too much like a lecture; and the latter, although more read-able and understandable, also started going over my head after some time.

So Epictetus and Nietzsche are back on my bookshelf for now, but still with their bookmarks in place, as my promise to return to them eventually. Part of me feels like I don’t really need to read any more philosophy, as Meditations has served me so well, but I’ve been taught not to accept the most immediate and/or convenient text of any kind without doing some sort of cross-referencing and broader reading.

When I picked up Meditations again last night, I’d forgotten that I’d left a slip of paper in its pages, on which I’d jotted down some quotes from the book. On the bottom of one side of this piece of paper was the following:

I have no cause to hurt myself: I have never consciously hurt anyone else.

– Meditations, Book 8, Chapter 42

It is interesting that I should find this now (although, to be fair, I’d probably find a reason to call anything I find in there “interesting”), but the reason why this particular line is so interesting is that, just in this past week or so, I have made the commitment to fix my poor sleeping habits. By which I really mean that I have renewed my commitment to this cause.

There have been many nights over the last several years in which I have not had a (generally accepted) “healthy” amount of sleep. Yes, I know different people have different sleep requirements, but I also know that I need more sleep, as indicated by how sleepy I get during the day, and by how much I sleep in on week-ends (or how much I would like to sleep in).

Most days I’ve been fine – survived whole days at work without coffee or other caffeinated beverages – but what worries me (probably more so than anything) is that sleep is important for memory consolidation, and I feel like I’ve become a bit more forgetful over the years. Not drastically forgetful, of course, but just this niggling feeling like I used to be better at recalling bits of information or thinking of words or retaining new knowledge.

And I know that sleep is important for other aspects of one’s health — from a very young age, I understood sleep to be the body’s time for rest and repair — and I know that neglecting this part of my life is detrimental to my health and my life.

Yet, I have struggled so much to fix it.

Interestingly, what did it for me — the thing that has flipped the proverbial switch — is being around other people who are also sleep-deprived. It turns out that pharmacists don’t sleep much.

Several of my colleagues are also really terrible at getting a decent night’s sleep on a somewhat regular basis. They might have nights when they sleep really well for seven to eight hours, but probably average about six hours a night (or less?) Six hours is probably my average too.

And six hours might be fine, but then they need caffeine to sustain themselves, and still, there might occasionally be a small slip suggestive of waning alertness. I have noticed this in myself too. After all, everyone is prone to making mistakes when tired and sleepy. That is my other main concern with this, because, with the work I do, small mistakes can have big consequences. (Fortunately, we have a lot of checkpoints to pick up on mistakes, but it’s always better if they don’t happen in the first place.)

So here we are, mutually chronically sleep-deprived. And finally I realised that if I can encourage my friends and colleagues to take care of themselves – to be kind to themselves – and make sleep a priority, then surely I should do the same for myself.

The difficult part is figuring out how to manage my time to ensure that, in dedicating more time for sleep, I don’t end up feeling like I’ve had to trim time from other commitments. I think this is the hurdle I could never overcome.

But, surprisingly, this first week wasn’t so hard.

I’ve increased my sleep to almost seven hours a night. Admittedly, some mornings I just randomly wake up more than an hour before my alarm, and I don’t always go back to sleep, but the main thing is that I’m going to bed at a more consistent time. And I’ve still had time to read and study and do things around the house. I also have not had any coffee this week.

What I have cut down on, which is not too much of a sacrifice, I suppose, is phone/screen time. My phone’s new operating system now keeps track of how much time I spend on each app, and allows me to put restrictions on them. While I’d like to think that I didn’t waste too much time on social media apps before this, I do think this has been helpful in avoiding that mindless, endless scrolling that I might succumb to after a long day when I’m exhausted and just want to lie on the couch.

Realistically, it’s still early days, but this attempt is already looking more promising than my other ones. I’m hoping this kindness to myself will also be a kindness to the people around me.

5 thoughts on “philosophy, kindness and sleep

  1. I know many people who have difficulty sleeping. I wonder if all the screens we as a society are forced to deal with through the day, along with dawdling over a phone screen at night, contribute to this problem– OR if it’s the actual information on the screens that disrupts the sleep cycle? No answer, but I am pleased to know that you’re doing better and sleeping longer. Whatever works, works.

    • I’d always been told that it was the artificial light (from screens and also actual lights) that was the problem, disrupting circadian rhythm; but it makes sense that the actual content of what we see contributes too.

      I’m just hoping I can stick to this, and make this a new “normal” for me

  2. It’s smart to get on top of this. I think *cumulative* sleep deprivation is particularly bad and some people make it a lifestyle (they just get used to compensating or propping themselves up with caffeine, etc until they get sick or are otherwise ill-affected).

    I think an argument for more sleep (even if it seems like it means cutting something out) is that people tend to do everything BETTER on more sleep and quite likely faster, when that is a factor. I am more productive in 3 or 4 hours on a good, well-rested day than I likely am in an entire sleep-deprived day.

    • Yeah, it seems like it’s become socially acceptable to be chronically sleep-deprived and surviving on caffeine every day. But I’m inclined to agree with you – I’m hoping to see more productivity with more sleep. I definitely got more study done last week!

  3. Pingback: right is right (most of the time) | pistachio conspiracy #63

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