“No big deal,” I thought as I looked at the clock, “I’m planning to stay up all night anyways….” It was 10 PM already, and I had hours of work ahead of me to get ready for our podcast launch the next day.
The problem I began to notice, though, was the more time I gave myself to complete a task, the more time I took to complete that task. When I planned for all-nighters, I found myself taking 3 times as long to get things done.
I obsessed over show notes and cover photos, playing with 50 different fonts and formats for hours. I edited and re-edited the page – wanting each line to be perfect, but knowing with each passing hour that my brain was less and less able to do its best work.
All-nighters were a recurring theme in my life since high school. I loved the feeling of stealing time – of getting more of it each day than anyone else I knew. I was cheating the system, and it felt great!
The Slippery Slope
My first all-nighter happened out of necessity. I had an important paper to write for AP English, and because of other tests, volunteering, tennis, and college applications that week, I had to complete the whole thing in one night. Never one to submit less than my best work, I stayed up all night reading, researching, and crafting a beautiful thesis.
The next morning, I got in the shower as usual, put on a little extra under-eye concealer, and headed off to high school in a daze. Amazingly, I was able to stay awake and (I thought) pay attention in all my classes. It should be noted that I used zero caffeine to stay up all night and zero caffeine the next day. My friends looked at me wide-eyed when I told them what I’d done. Most of them wandered through their day like zombies too, and that was with 6 or 7 hours of sleep. My paper earned an A, and all of a sudden, a whole new world was opened up to me.
Maybe I didn’t need as much sleep as the average person. I had a secret super power, and from that point on, I intended to use it as much as possible.
Throughout my senior year of high school, college, and my early working years, I lived by these lines from Edna St. Vincent Millay:
“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!”
“Sleep is for unmotivated losers,” I sincerely thought. “Who cares if my life-expectancy is shortened a bit, I’m going to LIVE – really LIVE.” I mistakenly thought there was something noble about railing against the body’s most rational needs and beating the humanity out of myself.
I routinely studied for Organic Chemistry and Calc III by staying up all night then strolling into the classroom to problem-solve my way through the tests like any other student. Surprisingly, I did well. Once again, my classmates were semi-impressed with my performance on little to no sleep. At the time, I was smugly oblivious to all the downsides of my lifestyle.
When I finally settled on a career in nursing, I knew the night shift would be perfect for me. I was one of the few RNs on the floor still peppy and smiling after a 12-hour shift. By this time, I’d discovered the miracle nectars of coffee and Red Bull. I drank both in large quantities every night. My co-workers shook their heads in dismay. The residents wondered what in the world there was to smile about at 6 AM on a Saturday.
Lack of Focus
What I later realized was that I wasn’t cheating any system except my own body’s. After an all-nighter, my brain felt foggy. “What was I working on? What am I supposed to do today?” were frequent questions floating lazily in my mind. I couldn’t focus, and even more importantly, I couldn’t even prioritize simple tasks and figure out where to start.
After an all-nighter or a 3-hour night, I would look back on the day and wonder what I had gotten done. “Where did all those hours go?” I honestly couldn’t even remember.
Science backs up my experience of the sleep-deprived, brain-haze. One study of 17 subjects showed that just 24 hours of sleep deprivation caused their entire brains to be less active – with even larger decreases in activity in the areas that control alertness, attention, and higher-order cognitive processes. As the markers for brain activity decreased, both alertness and cognitive performance decreased in the test subjects. Makes sense, right?
Something strange started happening during those all-nighters too. My mind would enter into this frantic state. My already too-full brain would flood with hundreds more ideas. It felt like a sand-storm attacking every neuron.
As a new entrepreneur trying to grow a podcast, blog, and Etsy shop, ideas on new products, topics to write about, and ways to market the business became overwhelming. With so many of them taking over my every thought, I couldn’t focus.
I couldn’t find a way to block them out and get started on anything. As a result, I felt anxious much of the time. Imagine trying to build a sand castle in that perpetual sandstorm. I was so busy just trying to protect myself from the battering that building anything of value seemed an impossible feat. Many studies, like this one, tell us that subjects report an increase in anxiety after sleep deprivation.
Outside of my own mind, my relationships with others began to suffer. I know for sure that I stressed my sister and business partner out. There was always something urgent we needed to do right that very second to grow our business. These directives were announced in panicked, caffeine-driven states. By the next day, there would be five new things we needed to do, and the list from yesterday seemed completely irrelevant and trivial.
After I became a mom, and every fiber of patience and understanding was tested on a daily basis, I realized with great clarity how important sleep was to my relationships.
I was more likely to get emotional or irritated over minor things when it came to my preschooler. “Am I seriously crying right now because his shirt is too short and we need to find another one to wear? What is going on?”
I could see the confused look in my son’s eyes too. “I mean, there are really important things to be upset about like running out of chocolate chips or not getting the ninja turtle cup, but this mom?…. This?” There are, embarrassingly enough, 50 other options in the closet. Literally, I could walk 10 steps, problem solved.
A study of 40 university students shows just this occurrence. The sleep-deprived group rated neutral stimuli as negative. (That sounds exactly like me without sleep!)
There’s something I really don’t want to admit here, but I feel like I should. I have needlessly raised my voice at my little guy, and I’m convinced that 95% of those errors were fueled by sleep deprivation. If I couldn’t summon up enough reasons to get sleep for myself, Holden was reason enough to get sleep. He deserved better from me.
The other major change I noticed in my chronic, sleep-deprived state was my lack of willpower. As a night-shift nurse, I routinely ate Skittles and Reese Cups for breakfast. Throughout the next day, I’d feast on muffins, toast, McGriddles, and cookies. (Hangs head in shame.)
Not surprisingly, my poor choices are backed by research. One study of 30 men and women showed that comparing day 5 of sleep deprivation to day 5 of adequate sleep meant an average increase by 300 calories and most of those were due to an increase in saturated fat. Multiply that by years of sleep deprivation, and I’d be in trouble!
Even simple tasks like getting up to flip the laundry felt so incredibly difficult to accomplish. I was drained. I was functioning at less than 50% of my rested capacity. The work I had accomplished the night before seemed silly and small compared to the non-productive haze that followed the 48 hours after an all-nighter.
This past summer, I finally resolved to make sleep a priority in my life.
Everything came into focus after that — both literally and figuratively. Sarah started receiving far less frantic phone calls about our next business move. Instead, I’d actually make a list of large goals, break them down into smaller tasks, and prioritize my tasks each day.
As I worked, I found that I could write for an hour straight without straying. I could schedule posts on social media then slip away, unaffected by the blizzard of other thoughts and ideas out there.
My anxiety about growing the business melted away too. In a rested state, I could easily see both the positives and negatives of our current situation.
We’re not growing as quickly as I’d like, but we are growing. Our audience is loyal and engaged. We love them to pieces. We haven’t added sponsors yet, but our affiliate marketing is picking up, and we’re making solid progress on creating our first product.
No longer did I feel panicked that we didn’t have a LinkedIn Strategy. (Umm, really…who cares? Sorry LinkedIn, but no one cares.) No longer did I feel inadequate because our Etsy shop only had 100 listings instead of 500. Given our top priority to spend time with our families, we’re doing fine. With sleep, I could see the big picture with clarity and continue to strategize the BEST steps to take going forward.
And my mood? Holden will be the first to tell you how much happier Mommy is these days. I can’t remember the last time I raised my voice. When he requires a time-out or some other form of discipline, I can do it calmly. Nothing is really a crisis anymore. That’s as it should be. I’m blessed to have a fairly crisis-free life at the moment.
I’m eating healthier these days too. Cutting up a cucumber or washing carrots doesn’t seem like the insurmountable feat that it once was. I no longer require 5 cups of coffee plus 2 Red Bulls per day. Although, I’ll admit, coffee gets me going in the morning, and on longer work days, I like a cup at naptime too. Making good choices, whether it’s what I eat or how I spend my time, well…it’s all so much easier when my energy tank is full and my mind is clear.
If you’re not convinced yet that more sleep is for you let me share a few of the things Sarah and I have accomplished in the last 6 months (all while getting plenty of sleep!)
- Interviewed more than 25 talented mom entrepreneurs. (Several of which we’re still shaking our heads in shock that they said yes to us!)
- Grew our email list by 10x in 3 months this Fall. (We started with a small number but still… 10x!)
- Created 52 Weeks to a Better Business, and as a result, have the opportunity every single day to connect with the most incredible mom entrepreneurs in our Facebook Group. (It was our audience’s idea – and we love it so much!)
- Completed about 75% of our first draft for our first book. (It’s coming…and we’re so excited about it!)
Could we have made even more progress than this? Yes, I’m sure we could have. We’re pretty proud of what we’ve done with our brand in a short amount of time, and we continue to make progress while spending time with our families, getting sleep, and living lives that we enjoy.
Disclaimer: If you’re a mom to a newborn, or any child who struggles with sleep each night, then I sincerely apologize! This post is not for you. Shield your eyes! Reading about all the affects lack of sleep can have on your health and well-being is the LAST thing you need to hear right now. What you need to hear is that “this too, shall pass.” Someday, your little ones will sleep again, and when they do, we hope you’ll commit to getting more sleep too. Until then, keep pressing onward, keep pushing through those foggy, blurry days, because that’s the best you can do. We’re here for you!
Are you a recovering sleep-deprived soul? What made you change your lifestyle? What routines help you to get more sleep each day?