Around 3:30 AM on a Sunday night, I was sitting in a hotel room in Poland, winding down after dancing, reading an article that was telling me I should have left the dance floor hours ago. In the Danish newspaper Berlingske, Chris Macdonald’s article Den store løgn om søvn (The great lie about sleep) listed the effects of sleep deprivation: weak immune system, over-dependence on caffeine, high blood pressure, weight gain, and unhappiness. “The brain and pretty much all of the body’s biological processes suffer when you are sleep-deprived.”*
I was reading this at the worst possible time, towards the end of a long weekend of dancing all night and then dancing all day. But it was the conclusion that really stuck with me:
It took us a long time to start taking the dangers of cigarettes seriously. The same thing is happening with sleep today.*
I’m not the only one who is tired all the time. No one sleeps enough, and no one is taking it seriously.
Some of my co-workers seem to work around the clock. My parents don’t have any pattern to their sleep habits at all, as far as I can tell. And then there are my dance friends. Our lifestyle just doesn’t allow for sleep.
One of the big threats to my sleep is West Coast Swing. At West Coast Swing weekend events, people complain if the evening dance parties end before breakfast is served. You’re supposed to attend workshops during the day, compete in the afternoon, dance and party from evening until breakfast, then take a nap before your next workshop. If I want to leave the dance floor “early” (like I had left at 3 that Sunday night), or nap instead of taking a dance class, I hear “You can sleep when you’re dead.” or “You’re here to dance, not sleep.” But I can’t enter a voluntary coma when I return from dance weekends, so I have to sleep at some point during the weekend.
Back in Oslo, it’s hard to consistently go to bed early when I’m teaching or practicing until ten pm three times a week. And I tend to feel more alert in the evening, which makes my sleep schedule look a lot like this:
My combination of consulting work and late night dancing is pretty much a recipe for sleep deprivation. But I’ve certainly experienced worse – when I combined late-night dancing and starting work at 6AM.
The thing is, it’s not just me. There is this widespread idea that rest is for the weak. Rich people now have less leisure time than poor people. Although that statistic is made up of a lot of different factors (including involuntary under-employment), one important reason is that the most high-status, highly paid jobs are considered more interesting than free time. Even when we are not paid overtime, we would rather work too much than not work enough. Leisure is associated with boredom and uselessness.
But we need to appear boring and useless from the outside in order to let our bodies be productive on the inside.
So last week, when I found myself sitting in a circle of teenagers,talking about our current life goals (long story), I listed one of my own goals as “getting more sleep”. And although the teenagers probably thought I was joking, I consider that casual statement – and this post – as my official commitment to getting more sleep. Just because I can function on six hours a night, doesn’t mean I should. I deserve to be more alert, creative and happy, and less dark under my eyes.
I am going to follow the advice of this t-shirt:
In case I need any more motivation to just go to bed, I will reread this horrifying Huffington Post story.
*My translation from the original Danish.