February 14, 2016

Why Sleep Deprivation is So. Not. Sexy. (& 10 Ways to Tell if You Need More Sleep)

I started an early-morning wake up resolution this year, for 15 days.

Normally, I’m a hard-core night-owl and late riser (I am not going to tell you what qualifies as an early morning for me). The thing is, I’m a night person for work reasons, not party reasons. I’m a writer and my brain works better at night. Right now, for example, I’m writing this at 9:15 pm, and I’ll have to wrap up soon so I can squeeze in enough sleep before my self-inflicted early wake-up call.

I’m only about 10 days into this experiment, and, alas, I am seriously sleep deprived. I’ve been going to bed at a decent hour, and getting almost enough sleep, but apparently almost is not good enough. Throughout this process, I’ve been tracking all the weirdness that sleep deprivation has brought into my life, and it’s pretty fascinating.

These are the top 10 ways I can tell when I’m sleep deprived:

1) Absent-mindedness.

I was nearly late to an important meeting recently, because I left my house and drove entirely in the wrong direction. Since I live on a mountain, this required me to backtrack and go all the way back up and then down the other way, just barely making my meeting. I also caught myself leaving the oven on for way too long (an expensive and potentially dangerous mistake).

2) Eating crap food.

When I’m exhausted I find myself eating crap food. I figured out that this is because I’m too tired to cook (something I normally enjoy), so I end up heating Trader Joe’s pizzas in the oven (and leaving the oven on afterwards). Not that I have anything against the occasional frozen pizza, but I found myself mindlessly going through the motions and stuffing my face every night.

I checked out some “signs that you are sleep deprived” articles online, and sure enough, weight gain is on the list.

3) Dehydration.

I normally drink tea in the late morning, and then go about my writing. When I’m exhausted, however, I slam coffee. I’m also more likely to want wine in the evening to wind down and numb the general pain that is sleep deprivation, so I crowd out my normal water intake with other liquids.


Oh yeah, and I could see the (unfortunate) difference in my skin. Not. Sexy.

4) Moodiness.

This one is pretty obvious. I am not a happy camper when I’m sleep deprived. Physiologically the whole thing is no fun. And practically speaking, I’m pissed because I’m not as effective at work, I’m making stupid mistakes, and I’m taking on bad habits (see coffee and eating crap above). My body is also probably pumping out stress hormones as well, contributing to weight gain (thank god I’m only doing this for 15 days). And in general, my emotions are all over the place. Raging b*tch lunatic = definitely not sexy.

5) Spending more money.

Oh yeah, and I’m also cranky because I’m spending more money. When I’m too tired to cook, or even heat up pizza or make my own coffee, I buy stuff to eat and drink. Which is expensive. And, small, absent-minded mistakes, like forgetting to pay for a parking meter, can add up. Even worse, huge mistakes, like being late to an important meeting or having a car accident, can be disastrous both personally and financially.

6) Too tired to exercise.

I love my yoga practice. It’s a treat for me, and not something I have to drag myself to normally. But when I’m overly tired, I just want a glass of wine. And I want to watch TV, which I never do. My brain can’t even handle audiobooks. Which all probably leads to weight gain, because I’m eating crap at the same time. Last week, though, an Ashtanga yoga practice and meditation were parts of my commitment.

Unfortunately, because of the inner rage that sleep deprivation inspires in me, I dragged my butt through practice, hating every minute. Miserable. Torture. No fun at all.

7) Too tired to floss.

Ha! Gross!! I actually took a couple of huge naps recently, which is why I’m lucid enough to write this, but last week I was literally too tired to floss. It’s a 30 second exercise that I do every day without thinking. But as a sleep-deprived zombie, I just could not.

Talk about being expensive long-term. Dental health problems and health problems in general are expensive problems to have.

8) Wasting time.

I mentioned watching TV earlier. I’d also find myself tumbling down the social media black hole way more often, and for longer periods of time. Probably while eating crap, drinking dehydrating liquids, not exercising, being grumpy, and certainly not working to earn money. Not pretty.

9) Accidents and injuries.

I mentioned leaving the oven on. Not cool. And expensive. I also hit my head the other day. In my own house. On a low beam that I manage to not run into every single non-sleep deprived day of my life. So uncool.

10) Insomnia.

Now this is a weird one. And let me tell you, it made me even more furious (see moodiness). When I am less effective during the day, and I can’t get my sh*t together, I am constantly behind the ball. I’d find myself unsatisfied with my day, thinking about things I had to do the next day, and stressing.

Normally, I go to bed satisfied and tired in a good way from a full day of productivity, or intentional rest, or some kind of general goodness. But last week, no. I was at that point where babies get if they stay up too long. They are literally too tired to sleep somehow. And they are pissed. Add a bunch of new worries about money and poor health, and this is a downward spiral, baby.


If any of this sounds familiar, you might be sleep deprived. What I found so fascinating about the whole thing was that all of these negative effects are totally linked together. Just like there are negative and positive feedback loops in nature, there seem to be similar patterns in life. Pull the thread of something that holds everything together, like sleep, and the whole sweater comes apart.

Get something simple like sleep right, and suddenly a lot of other things fall into place.

I know that we’ve developed a cult of busyness and a cult of toughness and all sorts of judgments around how basic self-care is somehow “weak.” However, I am of the opinion that walking around like a moody zombie, trying to perform in a fog, and then collapsing into crappy and food and drink and making exercise the enemy is probably not the way to go. It’s certainly not for me.

For those of us who think we simply don’t have time, let’s look at our priorities. If money, mental focus, exercise, safety, wellness, emotional stability, and feeling decent are on our list above sleep, as in, “I have to work, exercise, make money, and take care of things, I don’t have time to sleep! Sleep is for sissies and lazy people!” perhaps we have good reason to reassess. Once we see that all of these are connected, it makes sense to move some things around.

Perhaps try the opposite experiment from mine: 15 days of enough sleep, no excuses, no renegotiations. I’d love to hear what you find!






Author: Erin McMorrow

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: aerust at Flickr

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