Thought I’d start this newsletter with a wake-up call. Namely, one of mine.
I’ve had plenty of wake-up calls, but I’m sharing this one because it’s of the mother-of-all-wake-up-calls variety:
I could’ve killed myself and my family.
It took place about ten years ago…
Like many people, I find it challenging to sleep well when I‘m traveling. Unfamiliar sounds have you on alert, and when you’re staying in a hotel or resort, unfamiliar sounds abound.
We’d been at the beach for several days before beginning our journey home. I was driving our Honda Odyssey minivan on a major highway. I knew I was tired – I was yawning quite a bit – and though I’d had only a couple of beers, I know it helped to disrupt my sleep.
I’d driven tired before – who hasn’t? – and I knew I had to stay alert. So I did what I’m sure many drivers do to engage myself: switching lanes, getting some air, occupying my mind.
And still, I found myself locked in a prolonged battle to keep my eyes open. I fought it for miles… until I heard my wife, who was in the passenger’s seat, talking to my daughter in the backseat.
I was hearing her, but I wasn’t seeing anything. I had a flash of the last thing I remembered seeing: the minivan on my left.
I opened my eyes like they were spring-loaded, and to my great relief, I was still in my lane. Thankfully, there was no Clark Griswold-inspired, asleep-at-the-wheel highway exit, barreling through a takeout drive-thru and neighborhood before skidding to a stop at a motel. Just a very lucky guy exceeding his limits, living to tell, and managing not to hurt anyone.
We stopped for lunch a short time later, and with adrenaline still coursing through my veins, I told my wife what had happened. I know I stayed awake the rest of the ride, and I’m pretty sure I did so from the comfort of the passenger’s seat.
“Doc, I’ll get all the sleep I need when I’m dead.”
-Wade Garrett, legendary cooler
Wade had many of the best lines in Roadhouse, with Sam Elliott’s charisma and voice making them that much more memorable. Still, movies aren’t real and life is, so we must draw a line.
If you think like Wade Garrett does, you might get all the sleep you need much sooner than you want it.
I can hear Will Ferrell gasping, and the pitchy faux indignation that follows.
Now, I love it when I feel tired or exhausted from a challenging workout or a busy, fun day. It’s a short-lived, pleasant exhaustion. If I find I’m tired or exhausted during a routine day or days that don’t involve pushing myself physically or mentally, I question where I’ve gone astray.
Unchecked problems become chronic problems, and my sleep issues go way back. Mostly due to poor choices.
When I was younger, I appreciated sleep, but I didn’t value it.
Late nights were a rite of passage in my twenties. Whether we were bar-hopping, clubbing, moviegoing, or partying at friends’ homes, prying yourself away from the fun took discipline I often didn’t have.
And, of course, alcohol helps sleep as much an anvil helps a skydive. Unless, maybe, you’re Ethan Hunt.
A late night, whether alcohol-infused or not, still means you’re disrupting your sleep routine. The scientific term is “circadian rhythm,” and it means your body’s used to sleeping and waking at certain times.
When your body gets the rest it needs, each night is garbage and recycling night at the cellular level. Consider what happens to your home if you let your garbage and recycling pile up instead of removing it from your home.
Rotting food. Mold. Insects. Vermin.
Nobody wants to live in or near such filth.
When you’re sleeping, your brain kicks into maintenance mode, coordinating waste removal, repairs, cataloging your thoughts, processing information, and much more.
Think of it as your body entering the body shop each night while you sleep. Your brain’s a pit crew working with calibrated precision to coordinate waste removal, perform repairs, catalog your thoughts, process information, and much more.
It’s all about optimizing you for performance when you return to the race track that is your waking hours.
But shave a few hours off of the pit crew’s night shift, and that night on the town gets expensive. Trash, recycling, and repairs linger. Thought cataloging, Info processing, and concentration suffers. Doing it again the next night?
The garbage piles up.
Poor sleep can lead to difficulty concentrating, fatigue, increased stress, and reduced performance. Sounds trivial until they accumulate, contributing to chronic health problems, surgical mishaps, automobile deaths, and whatever else your imagination can conjure. Or, just wake-up calls.
How many red flags do you need to commit to change? I needed far more than I care to admit.
Now, I’m trying to get all the sleep I can each night. On nights I fall short, I look to plan better for the next night. I want my pit crew to be elite so my health outcomes may be outstanding.
I’ll get deeper into the sleep topic soon.
Until then, sleep well.