Chapter 7 identifies the false ideas that have us running out of hours at the end of the day. We can pile illusions on top of time, but it is simple enough to deal with time for what it actually is — by making honest decisions as we go along.
With so much to do, how can a person, or a rock band, even think of sleeping? “Sleep is for the weak,” performing musicians say, expressing a kind of defiance and the hope of overcoming the physical demands of the body. A band may be excited about going to interesting places and making an impression on new people, or just resigned to the need to meet the uncompromising schedule of a musician’s life. Yet putting every other priority ahead of sleep has its costs. Real success in life comes through meeting the needs of the body, not by ignoring them.
In truth, it does not take much to get a person to miss the first few hours of sleep. Anything that captures our attention for the moment can seem more important. Or we work into the night in the hope of getting more done.
Sleep, by its nature, is never terribly urgent — but it is very important. Sleep researchers coined the term sleep deficit to catalog the wide-ranging consequences of insufficient sleep. Moderate sleep deficit is known to cause irritability, diminished alertness, bad test scores, weight gain, and accidents. Increasing levels of sleep deprivation lead to impaired judgement, emotional instability, paranoid thoughts, hallucinations, and falling asleep involuntarily. Simply put, a sleep deficit interferes with the ability to take effective action.
For all it costs you, cutting into your sleep schedule does not even give you much more time to use. There was a time when I thought I could do anything if I stayed up late enough, but that illusion vanished the first time I worked all night to meet an early-morning deadline. There were only a few hours before 7 a.m., and all I did was scarcely more than I could have done if I had made more thoughtful decisions during the previous day or better yet, the previous weekend.
Staying up and working into the night, even all night, makes sense at times when you are completely inspired and doing something extraordinary, or when, as in my story, you have a critical deadline to meet and failed to get the work done in advance. Yet people also stay up late for lesser reasons: to get a little more work done, to try to catch up with the world’s demands, or just because they got caught up in something that ultimately doesn’t amount to anything. If you regularly find yourself fighting to stay awake because you are in a race against time, then it is a race you have already lost. With a sleep deficit, you can only fall farther and farther behind.
In the long run, you get the most done when you are at your best — when you get enough sleep to feel fresh and ready to take action. It might take another hour or two of sleep to be properly rested, but if this means you perform at your best, avoid mistakes and accidents, and think of new solutions to the problems you are working on, this can save you more than one or two hours of work over the course of a day.
Conversely, something as simple as stubbing your toe when you get out of bed — the kind of little accident that is likely to happen when you have a sleep deficit — can slow you down enough to cost you, over the course of a day, more time than you thought you had gained by staying up late. A sleep deficit turns into a performance deficit more quickly than we would like to admit.
Some people actually get up early for no reason except for the general idea of getting ahead in life. The cruel irony of this approach hits when they are sitting at their desks at 6 a.m. asking themselves, “Now what was I supposed to do?” A lack of sleep puts you in a mental state in which you can react to things as they come up, but you cannot think clearly enough to take charge of your life. It takes an extra minute or two to figure out what things mean or to remember your own priorities, so you are not in a position to steer your life in any particular direction. The achiever mentality that encourages people to get up early can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin, though, advocated “Early to bed and early to rise” as a way of life. People want to skip the “early to bed” part of this as an unnecessary inconvenience, but it is no accident that Franklin mentioned it first.
Sleep deficit affects performance and has the other specific known costs I mentioned — and it literally looks bad. When people have not had enough sleep, they look older. The muscle weakness that goes with sleep deficit exaggerates wrinkles in the face at the same time that it undermines posture. It can slur speech, blur eyesight, and create other signs of a body not at full strength. A sleep deficit feels as bad as it looks. People who have a sleep deficit feel pain more acutely and lack the general feeling of well-being that comes with being properly rested. If you were starting to think that anything that looks and feels this bad must actually be bad, you would be right.