My compelling reason to sleep

What am I working on this month myself? Getting the right amount and quality of sleep that I need. It’s been a process, but I’m ready to solve it once and for all. It’s something I’ve been putting off. I’ll tell you why in a second.

Long story short and simple – I have acquired many poor sleep habits starting from when I was a young kid. It’s time to change them.

As a kid, I would stay up late reading under the covers with the flashlight on (with ears listening for mom coming up the stairs.)

As a teen, it was the newness of the cell phone, romantic relationships, and the pressure I put on myself even then to be the best in everything I did. (Does it even matter now who was on the honor roll?) Late nights were the norm.

In college, it was staying up to try to complete a never-ending list of what I needed to study next. Why did I do this? It was in order to get the grades I wanted (to get into medical school.)

In med school, it was much of the same, with late nights studying and preparing for my clinical rotations. The continued sense of “there’s not enough time to learn it all” drove me to stay up later. I was simultaneously driven by an enthusiasm for living the dream I had worked for all during my youth.

In residency – the context for poor habits included the long hours at work, the continual learning curve, and trying to create the feeling of a normal life outside of work. Some rotations were better than others. 

As an attending – things eased up for a little while, and then it was the question of how I would keep up with my admin tasks and growing practice (answer then: give up sleep.) Before long, my son was born, and frequent awakenings were unavoidable. 

These are the things that happened, and these were my behaviors in relation to my sleep. But why did I chronically overwork at the expense of sleep?

For a lot of reasons, into which I now have insight. We need to look at my thoughts.

Some of them were…

-Wondering if I was enough the way I was. (Now I know I am enough.)

-Wondering if I would be liked. (Now I know that some people will like me, others won’t, and that’s okay.)

-Wondering how I could do everything I wanted in the limited time I had. (Now I know that there is no rush at all, and I enjoy everything I’m doing in life.)

-Thinking my body could handle it because I had done it before. (Now I realize that there was no need to stay up late and that it was a choice all along. Staying up late was something I didn’t have to give into, even though society and medical culture said in many ways I would be better off to live that way. It might have meant that I not choose medicine as a career, and that’s okay. There would have been other ways to live my purpose in life without hurting my body through sleep deprivation, which is a usual part of medical training.)

Why do I continue to work on my tendency to overwork? 

Because our society is constantly feeding us thoughts that we have to do more, that we have to have more, that we have to be more than we are in order to matter.

Because old thought patterns can diminish, but depending on how long you’ve been having them, they may never go away completely, or they will come up in a new way with new goals and life challenges. This is okay. Have awareness of this and manage it.

My life has changed a lot in the past two years. I have new perspectives about my self-worth. I know how to set boundaries for myself. This is good news, because now I know how to create a balanced life around my part-time clinical practice, my health, my family life, and my passion for coaching. 

I know it’s possible to have all of this, but first, I need to sleep.

To get the sleep I need to do it all, I needed to find a compelling reason

I had been having a hard time finding a compelling reason to sleep – not because I didn’t understand the benefits in general, and not because I didn’t love myself or my health or my family. These are common reasons we use to drive ourselves into action, but isn’t it interesting when they don’t always work?

The reason it was hard was because part of my human brain believed what it chose to believe. For a long time I had strengthened the compelling reasons to follow old habits (by choosing to believe them.) For example, “Well, if I stay up a little longer, I can do more and I can learn more. I can be more.” I found all the ways in which this was true — missing the ways in which I was simultaneously creating the exact opposite reality as well.

I needed to question that thought and find strong evidence to support an alternative perspective.

This happened when I started reading the book “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker, PhD. (I highly recommend it if you have sleep issues yourself.)

After having had many failed attempts, I found my compelling reason in the refresher about NREM and REM sleep. NREM sleep, predominating earlier in the night, refines neural connections; REM sleep increasing in duration over the course of the night, strengthens neural connections.  

By staying up later and having lost a couple hour of sleep, we lose more of our REM sleep, “60-90 percent of all your REM sleep,” Walker states. 

No way. Not after all that I have invested in myself. I have invested so much of my life into learning for my profession, so much of my money into coaching to enhance my mental health, so much of my time to create a beautiful family life, and more. What a shame if I was to just lose the benefits of all my investments — including the ability to be awake and present in my life, and the ability to maximize my creativity and critical thinking– due to a few hours of lost sleep each night. 

No way. 

So I keep reading the book, and practicing the thought, to strengthen my compelling reason. “By going to bed now, I’m going to live my best life.”

Find your compelling reason. Then decide how you’re going to invest in yourself.

Getting from A to B: Stop Checking Boxes

For a long time, I had lived by checking the boxes – boxes that society, school, friends, and family had created for me, but that I had adopted as my own. 


There were items on that list of “shoulds” and “to dos” that had even come from an old version of myself many years ago.


Have you ever done that? Gotten stuck on autopilot – living a good life, living a not-so-good life, or living an okay life – but never really stopping to ask yourself if that life is what you wanted to be living? 


I’m not suggesting that you need to change a thing – your life might be amazing for you right now in many ways. Actually, you can choose to see that things are great if you want to, no matter what. And that’s exactly it — I’m asking you to pause and notice that you have a choice in each and every moment of your life to decide what you want. 


Did you know that? I didn’t. For a long time, I thought that I was “stuck.” Stuck because I thought that I was bound to the decisions I had made a long time ago. 


Why? Commitment, loyalty, embarrassment, to eliminate confusion and uncertainty – there were a lot of reasons. 


I also thought that I was stuck because I didn’t realize the power I had in creating my own life – the power I had to be in charge of my mind, my feelings, and how I showed up. 


One big reason that I was stuck was because I wanted to check the boxes. Checking the boxes meant that I could be certain that I would reach my goals, when I couldn’t know with certainty if I would get there otherwise. But this kept me on a path, without an option to try something else. 


Checking boxes: it’s an easy and sometimes useful thing to do 


Until it isn’t. 


After a while, it gets exhausting, because ultimately you aren’t the one creating your own path. Rather, you’re following someone else’s. And it’s hard living a life that someone else has decided for you. For me, I lived with tension about this for a long time. 


The hard thing is, sometimes the paths that have been laid out for us to follow seem perfectly appropriate and nice. They really may help us get to where we want to be. But we may get lost in the allure of the final destination, and miss the fact that scenery isn’t really what we were looking forward to. We put up with this, thinking that there is going to be better than here. 


But you know what? It isn’t. It really isn’t.

Life is lived now, in the present moment. The thoughts that we have about the past and the future even, these occur now. It is worth it to create a life where you can enjoy the journey of getting from point A to B. 


Are you enjoying your journey? Are you enjoying it 100%? The good stuff and the bad stuff? 


Remember, life is a 50/50 balance of negative and positive emotions. You’re always going to experience some negative aspects of life. But in what you are able to control, you can choose what flavor of “negative” you want to experience. This is still in your power. 


What do you have to do before you choose a path that is your own?


You must develop certainty and clarity. You must have clear goals that you are working on, and then develop the mindset to create certainty about what you can achieve. (In other words, you must believe in yourself and your vision without a doubt.) When you can do this, you free yourself from checking the boxes. You become willing to follow your own path, even if it takes you a bit longer to get to where you’re going. 


Life becomes easy.


Life becomes more joyful. 


Because you can love all of it, the whole experience of getting from A to B.