discovering exhaustion

[think kit. day sixteen]

ELMHURST, Ill. — Matt looked sighed a lot while we were Skyping tonight.

“Are you tired?” I asked. He sighed again.

“I have been tired for the entire month of December,” he said.

Ugh. Me, too.

It hasn’t just been this month — my sleeping patterns have been all over the place. This year, I started using an app called Sleep Cycle that tracks my movements overnight and uses that data to generate graphs and insight into my sleep patterns.

For instance, I slept really well this summer: Between June and August, I regularly went to bed around 10 p.m. and got about eight hours of sleep, particularly in June and July. Here’s what’s different about those months from the ones before and after it: Longer days allowed me to exercise more; a longer commute required me to wake up earlier, therefore motivating me to go to bed early; I had only one job/was not job hunting and Matt and I were on a good cooking streak.

Sleep Cycle also allows you to make notes about your day before going to bed, so you can see how those aspects of your day impact your sleep. I sleep significantly better when I work out, eat my own cooking and drink tea. I also sleep well when I drink a lot, but that tends to happen on the weekends when I sleep twice as much as I do on a week night, which distorts the data. (Despite how well I may have slept after a night at the bars, I don’t feel well-rested. Mind-blowing, I know.)

Eating crappy food, eating late and a stressful day will hurt my sleep quality. Of course, I don’t need an app to tell me this.

I ran my first half-marathon this year and wrecked five months of training by getting no sleep the week of the race. All 13 miles were miserable. Today was the first day I exercised in more than a week — a rare drought for me — and I immediately felt more balanced than I had in days. (Blogging at 1 a.m. will likely negate this.)

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I learned that catching up on sleep is a myth. I have worked full weeks on 4 hours’ sleep each night and never gotten those lost hours back. I have slept for 22 out of 24 hours and still felt wiped out. Hitting snooze is generally a bad idea (but I do it every. single. day.) Time, more often than not, feels off but can’t be corrected, and I’m slowly coming to terms with that.

What does that mean, you ask? I’m getting better at moving forward when I would have previously dwelled on my misused past. I can more easily recognize my limits and make better decisions. I offer ignore this newly developed voice of reason telling me, “STOP WORKING. GO TO BED.” But there is progress. Glacial progress.

Tonight, believe it or not, is an example of that progress. I may still be awake, but I’m in bed. I wanted to stay up and tackle my many lists, but I took a deep breath, thought for a moment and closed my computer. I can make up list time. Sleep time is less forgiving.

[Think Kit Dec. 16 prompt: What did you discover this year? Was it accidental or on purpose? What did you learn?]

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