For many people, the cruelest part of daily life is the transition between wakefulness and sleep. When you should be sleeping, you want to be awake; when you should be awake, you want to stay asleep. It is easy to regard sleep as a torment: hard to attain and then hard to give up, day after day after day.
According to the CDC, about 70 million Americans have chronic sleep problems. Insomnia affects between a third and a half of U.S. adults at one point or another. And we Americans are not unusually afflicted—one 2016 study reported that worldwide, 10 to 30 percent of the population experiences insomnia; some studies find rates as high as 50 to 60 percent.
But behind this torment resides an opportunity to increase our quality of life, if we can change our relationship with our slumbering selves. Instead of worrying about how we can more efficiently induce sleep, we need to stop resisting it. And to do that, we need to stop seeing sleep as purely physiological and start considering its transcendent significance.
We view sleep as a chore, and so we put it off and don’t get enough sleep. This behavior is so common it even has a name “revenge bedtime procrastination.”
Why “revenge?” It’s “a form of rebellion against [our] own inner authority,” says Arthur Brooks. “Weirdly, we deprive ourselves of sleep to show some sort of independence from—well, ourselves.”
Instead of viewing sleep as a chore, and postponing it, we should welcome slep as an opportunity to refresh our bodies, minds, and spirits.
We think of sleep as a little death, a kind of shutting down. But actually there’s a lot going on in sleep. It’s a busy time, and part of life.
My insomnia was getting steadily worse over the past five weeks or so, and this weekend I took the drastic step of setting an alarm to get up at the same time on Saturday and Sunday as I do on workdays. It seems to be helping. I’m still not getting enough sleep, but I’ve gotten 6-8.5 hours nightly for four consecutive nights. Hooray!