Who Needs Sleep?

by Bobby Rock

Apparently, we all do… and lots more than we think we need.  But not just any sleep: deep, restful, quality sleep, the likes of which can be tough to experience if: you’ve had caffeine within 12 hours of bedtime, you’ve been looking at screens within 2 hours of bedtime, you re inconsistent about when you go to bed each night, your sleep space is too warm and/or not dark enough… and on and on it goes. Each of these things (and many others) can play a major factor in your sleep life, and from there, nearly every aspect of your mind/body wellness is affected in ways that seem incomprehensible. 

One of my favorite experts on the subject is neuroscientist Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep. I blazed through this book a couple years ago and it scared the shit out me, because it reminded me of how negligent I often am about my own sleep life. But I wasn’t ready to deal with the realities of sleep deprivation, even though I know the importance of solid, consistent sleep for superior health.

And so… I just caught an episode of Rich Roll’s podcast with Matthew Walker on it, and it is mind-blowing. It’s lengthy, but essentially a crash course on the science behind sleep, why it’s important, and how to get better at it. Walker is all over the web (Ted Talks, etc.) and his book is excellent, but again, this podcast is a great encapsulation of his compelling material.

Getting enough sleep, for me, has always fallen into that “do as I say, not as I do” category when it comes to dispensing health advice.  Even as I’ve known how important it is for the rejuvenation and recovery of mind and body—especially if you’re putting yourself through a lot of mental or physical stress (I specialize in both!)—I’ve been resisting it for years. I think this really started way back in 1990 when I first went veggie. One of the first things I noticed is that I didn’t appear to require as much sleep. After four to six hours, tops, my eyes would spring open and I would jump out of bed. I attributed this largely to how much easier high-fiber, plant-based food is to digest, as opposed to fiberless, high-fat animal products, and figured my body simply didn’t need as much recovery time at night since it didn’t have to deal with all that sludge rolling through my digestive tract. Meanwhile, as I did the math on what an extra two hours per day of hyper-productive wake-time could mean over the course of a year, I freaked. Even at five days per week of sleeping two hours less at night, that equated to 40 hours per month, times 12, equals three extra months per year of additional 8-hours-per-day productivity. Sign me up! 

And my relationship to sleep hasn’t been the same since.

To be clear, I haven’t attempted to live by this exact ethos through the years, but there’s no question that sleep has been downgraded to this “necessary evil” that I’ve always tried to outwit, outsmart, and generally short-change. I’ve attempted to get just enough to thrive, figuring that any more would be a shameful waste of time. And as for any kind of steady sleep schedule? That’s laughable, My shit is all over the map, with zero consistency from one day to the next as far as when/if I go to sleep, when I’ll wake up, how much I’ll generally see at one time, etc.  And yet, I maintain it’s been working pretty well for me through the decades. 

And then, as Matthew Walker reminds us (paraphrasing), If you are sleep deprived on any level, you are actually evaluating your state of being with a compromised mental acuity. So how would you really know if not getting enough sleep is working for you?

He likens it to someone who’s had too much to drink and is incapable of evaluating whether they’re fit for driving. Of course they think, “I’ll be okay to drive.” DUI folks always think that. But the point is, they are not in a position to even make such an evaluation.

I know this might seem like an extreme comparison, but is it really? Short-term memory loss (AKA walking into a room to fetch something but forgetting what it was) and other symptoms of being overly tired are not that different from being buzzed. I sometimes feel like my whacked sleeping habits are starting to catch up with me.

Anyway, all for now. I guess I felt like riffing on this because it’s been top-of-mind for me lately, and I figured some of you guys might relate. Scope that link when you can. Rich Roll is on Spotify, YouTube, and other podcast mediums. See the show links and info here:


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