Thursday, April 14, 2016

Prioritizing Sleep


I write this at 2:30am.

My friends and co-workers know that I am an unapologetic morning person.
The running joke is "Wendy turns into a pumpkin as soon as the sun sets".
My friends (and boss - who seems to get the brunt of my crazy early morning emails) are very understanding.
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Morning insomnia has been an issue for most of my adult life. 
The past 5 years, it's gotten better.
I'm down to only a couple of mornings per week where I'm waking at ungodly hours and not getting at least 6 hours per night.

I've learned that I don't function terribly well with less than 6 hours a night. 
I'm OK in the morning (to me, others may argue with that assessment), but by 1pm - the brain decides it doesn't want to work anymore, I get even crankier, and I want sugar (preferably in licorice, mint, gummy bear or ice cream form).

A helpful pattern I picked up during the Masters Thesis push is "sleep when you are stuck."

Tough to do at work (most workplaces frown on napping) - but when I am in the throes of learning something really mentally intensive, I find myself sleeping a lot more.

Knowing these patterns, I went into the PMP boot camp week with the plan to prioritize sleep during the week. Above all else.

The plan:
  • Schedule the test for your strongest time of day.  Since mine is early morning - I scheduled the 7:30am exam. 
    • Last year, I took the TOGAF in the afternoon on a work day 3 days after the class. Taking a test is stressful enough without walking in already frazzled from work and tired because you are trying to do this when the circadian rhythms want you to take a nap. I had zero intention of repeating that experience.
  • Go to bed as close to my normal time as possible.  
    • I knew my brain was going to be completely fried by the end of each day, and I don't work so well in the evening. I figured much more studying after class was likely going to be a case of diminishing returns.
  • Get to the hotel ballroom early. Leaving before 6am helped me beat DC traffic. That gave me time to do my homework while the brain was still fresh.  And the behavior was closer to what I was actually going to do on test day.
  • Don't sweat if you don't get your homework "done."  Thankfully, I found the extra time in the hotel ballroom in the morning was enough time to get the homework complete.
I was pleased to find that my plan worked brilliantly. Less stress, better rested, felt sharper than I had expected.
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Meanwhile, I was amazed at the number of my classmates who prided themselves on not sleeping.
"I was up until 3am studying!"
"Yeah - well I was up until 4am, then came here at 6!"
"So Wendy, what did you do?"
Uh...went to bed at my normal time and came here early this morning.

They would usually go back to one-upping each other on their lack of sleep and busyness and how "hard" they were studying.  Much like work.

There is so much research on how lack of sleep impacts brain function.
And from experience, I knew that if I slept - it would allow me to process the information in a way that I could more easily retrieve it when I needed it.

Why are we still in the cult of sleeplessness and busy and "hard"?
How well is that really working? 

I would posit "not well"- if finding the director of a Fortune 500 company crying in the bathroom on day 3 - sleep deprived, frustrated, and scared that she wasn't going to pass the certification exam because she could not see ANY improvement in her practice tests - is any indication.
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I've been there.
Sleepless, busy and working "hard" (vs smart) doesn't work for me.
As much as my partner loves to point out my love of "the struggle".

My lack of sleep is not by choice and not a point of pride.
Yes, I get a lot of work done early in the morning.
Yes, I occasionally send emails at ungodly hours.

But for me, this is making the best of an unfortunate situation.

My current boss is smart enough to chide me for it (vs reward me for it).

I'm getting better.
It is a work in progress.
I'm going back to bed.

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