Do you ever resist your bedtime like a belligerent 2-year-old? Many times I get so involved in a project or am in such a flow of writing, I hate to stop. Hours may pass without me drinking water or eating—I know better, but that’s what happens. And once in a while, this burst of productivity happens at night and the next thing I know, I’ve stayed up far past my bedtime—I know better, but it happens! I pull myself away to go get some sleep, thinking, what a waste of time…I wish I had a rapid-recharge button instead of having to leave everything I want to do just to go to bed.
Waste of time? Was I ever wrong!
As with everything, once I became more aware and learned about what my body was actually in need of (not just “shut-eye”), my frame of reference changed and the resistance slacked off like a snapped rubber band.
Dr. Barbara Oakley is an expert on how we learn. As a professor, she often speaks about what students can do in order to improve test scores. Taking an exam in college is one time when you very much want your mind to be razor-sharp. You want to be able to bring your A-game and perform as well as possible. Can you think of times when your leadership role demands your A-game? You certainly don’t want to be foggy-minded or approach the situation with an exhausted team of brain cells.
“Being awake creates toxic products in your brain,” Oakley explains. “When you sleep, your brain cells shrink. This causes an increase in the space between your brain cells. It’s like unblocking a stream. Fluid can flow past these cells and wash the toxins out. So, sleep which can sometimes seem like such a waste of time, is actually your brain’s way of keeping itself clean and healthy.”
I had never thought about that function of sleep, but I did know that lack of sufficient sleep over time is associated with problems including headaches, depression, heart disease, weight gain, diabetes and even a shorter life-span.
Here is another arrow for your quiver when you need to shut up that “I don’t wanna” voice: All of your body and mind functions will serve you better after a full night’s sleep (which does vary for different people, but averages eight hours). This is because of the massive internal clean-up work automatically done by your body when given the chance. Think of how your kidneys, liver and other organs perform detox during this fasting period…your brain does, also.
According to Oakley, “It seems that during sleep, your brain tidies up ideas and concepts you’re thinking about and learning. It erases the less important parts of memories and simultaneously strengthens areas that you need or want to remember. Sleep has also been shown to make a remarkable difference in your ability to figure out difficult problems…It’s as if the complete deactivation of the conscious you in the prefrontal cortex at the forefront of your brain helps other areas of your brain.”
Sounds obvious now that staying up late to work on a problem might be the most counter-productive thing you could do. Also, this explains why many people swear by “power naps.” It’s not just that sleep leaves you feeling more rested, it actually makes you smarter.