Good morning this Wednesday morning — my eyes are creaky and still feel hazarded with sleep. I imagine draping a yellow warning sandwich board across this post: blogging while sleepy — look out. How are your eyes fingers neck shoulders belly back heart this morning? How are all of your inside parts communicating with your outside parts?
This morning I want to write about sleep — about letting ourselves have the sleep we need and not feeling ashamed about it. My alarm went off at 4:45 this morning, and instead of snoozing it, I reset the alarm for fifteen or twenty minutes later. I wanted to be up early at the page. I’d gone to bed last night before ten! Surely I would wake up with the first alarm bright and alert and ready for writing. But 4:45, 5:15, 5:30, 5:45 — all came and went. The old guilt and shame started to creep around my edges: look at how lazy you are; you set goals for yourself and then don’t achieve them — you tell yourself you’re going to get up early and then all you do is sleep.
Now, mind you, 4:45 was just barely 7 hours after I went to sleep. But still the berating voices. Those voices are much quieter than they used to be, and the parts of myself that understand our bodies and minds need sleep to repair and recover, that understand our needs for sleep can increase or decrease depending on what’s going on in our lives — those parts encouraged me to turn over and nuzzle back into the pillows.
The CDC lists sleep guidelines (ridiculous, know — everyone is different!) for adults that say we need 7-9 hours of sleep a night. (Teens, it says, can use 8-and-a-quarter to 9-and-a-quarter hours’ sleep; meanwhile, I was lucky if I got five even then).
My stepfather kept me sleep-deprived all through my adolescence — kept all of us awake. As many of you know, sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture around the world. During my teen years, I internalized my stepfather’s assertion that a desire for sleep was an indication of depression — that it meant I was just trying to escape from waking reality, from dealing with my issues (a psychotherapist, my stepfather used psychological manipulation .
And later, it’s true, I spent years during my twenties both wanting and resisting sleep, years when depression took me over the edge into thick difficult dreams as often as possible. It seemed the nightmares just waited for me, night after night. Yet there was processing, healing, that my body undertook during those long sleepy times.
The only point I have this morning is that it’s ok for this body to need sleep. Sleep heals the body. It’s ok for us to take care of ourselves by letting ourselves sleep: even a full 8 hours. It doesn’t mean I’m any less important or less busy or less involved in my community if I get more sleep. I’ve absolutely internalized the “busy-is-better” message, which isn’t ameliorated by a move into a full-time self-employment. Anyone getting enough sleep within this world (and I’m thinking of my own communities of activists, teachers, front-line advocates, writers, artists, social change agitators) is suspect, aren’t they? How could you be doing enough for the world if you’re so rested?
For years I’ve worn my exhaustion like a badge of honor: a way to be visible, for my trauma and my work to be witnessed. Sleep is often not easy; it’s a place of complications and loss — so many dear friends in my communities can’t sleep at all.
I do not work well when I’m exhausted. I don’t think as clearly, I’m not as alert nor as functional as I can be when I get enough sleep. And enough sleep changes for me from week to week, depending on what else is going on in my life. Some weeks, six hours is plenty. Some weeks, eight or nine hours feels like almost enough. When there’s a lot going on in my life, I need more sleep, even though those are the times when I want to force myself to take less. So I set my alarm for five hours and then fritter away my morning REM sleep doing a dance with the snooze alarm.
This is what I want to say this morning: We get to take care of these bodies now. We get to sleep. Being tired isn’t weakness. Needing or wanting sleep isn’t shameful. It’s our body doing its good work. Its us getting, now, to attend to the natural rhythms inside our own skin.
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What’s your (or your character’s) relationship with sleep? How has that relationship changed over time? Spend a moment with that image at the top of this post — what arises for your writing self when you take in those words and image? Give yourself ten minutes, at least, on the page with yourself and your sleep today — or, if it works for you, you might also rest your head onto your folded arms, and take ten minutes for a nap.
Thank you for how the different ways you allow yourself and your body ease; thank you for the ways you encourage and allow the regeneration and healing that arises with sleep. Thank you for your gentleness with your body and your own healing process. Thank you for your words.