Sleep as the Foundation of All Change
All my life, I’ve been a bit of a flip flopper. I get excited about a new thing, be it a hobby, diet, exercise regimen, or wellness routine, and go to extremes to pursue it. I’m carried along for months by a seemingly unlimited gas tank of enthusiasm and determination. Then something happens. Sometimes it’s an external factor, like persistent bad weather disrupting my hiking routine. Sometimes it’s internal, like a bout of stressful days that saps my motivation to do anything hard. In either case, what should be a surmountable roadblock ends up completely derailing me, often to catastrophic results (e.g. capping off 3 months of intense diet and exercise with an equal period of binge eating and total inactivity).
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on why this pattern crops up across all the most important areas of my life. Why am I constantly sent back to my starting place when I still have every logical motivation to power on? Why are all my failures, cascading failures? For awhile I wondered if maybe I just didn’t possess the stamina for long term change. Or perhaps I'm someone that needs to feel shame, i.e. be in my worst state, to motivate actions. I met with psychiatrists and coaches, but no one had a good answer.
Then it came to me. I realized that the answer was actually something much simpler. It was my sleep.
There are endless articles on the importance of sleep, that we won’t retread here. I think it’s fair to say that we all intellectually agree that adequate sleep is foundational to our health and a major component of any health or wellness goal. I can draw a direct correlation between my sleep duration and regularity and the energy and optimism I have to affect change in my life. Yet, I continued to stay up late watching Seinfeld reruns. Why?
Sleep is a nightly decision to prioritize the future over the present.
Jerry Seinfeld joked that “night guy” would always screw over “day guy”, which is to say that our short term pleasure seeking behaviors tend to win out over our rational, long term planning. And as we've all experienced, the resolve of our more logical brain is attenuated with each passing hour that we stay up past our bedtime.
I had fallen into the thinking trap that my evening relaxation was my reward for the day’s activities. So in the moment, I was deciding to reward myself for today at the detriment of tomorrow. And, like so many negative patterns, this one is self-fulfilling. By not sleeping well, I would fall behind the next day, either failing to complete my routines or pushing them further into my day, so that even if I was “good” and pushed through, I just ended up carrying my debt forward, feeling once again that I deserved sufficient relaxation as my reward. And hence, the failure cascades.
In my experience, the key to sustainable change is a twofold shift in perspective:
- View sleep as the largest part of your reward for a good day's efforts.
- Consider the beginning of your bedtime ritual as the start of the following day.
Ultimately, I needed to shift my thinking away from decisions that allow my rather dumb pleasure seeking brain to prioritize its whims over the foundations of my long term plans.
In practice, this means making my bedroom a pleasurable place to be, setting a consistent personal evening ritual, and finding enjoyment in sending myself to bed. Investing in sleep, not just for its abundance of physiological benefits, but also as a daily practice for your longer-term decision making skills, is the difference between cascading failures and enduring exponential success.
Speaking of your bedtime routine, try Grüner's Evening Ritual Oil -- the perfect way to wind down the day, while also making a great long-term decision: taking care of your skin!