There’s something about the urban environment and lack of sleep that seem to go well together. There’s always something to do and always something to work on and think about. I’ve always been a morning person, but moving to Boston has also made me a night person. I’ve found that late nights and early mornings are not the best combination. This month’s challenge came at a point in my life where I was sleeping on average 6 hours/night or less. Really I’ve just been trying to absorb as much life as I can after work, four or five hours at night during the week just isn’t enough time. I was consistently overtired, drinking roughly a liter of coffee per day, and not performing my best both at work and on the weekends athletically.
Going into this month’s life experiment I thought the hardest thing would be to put myself to bed. It turned out that the issue was a little more complex than that. The struggle typically had to do with other people, not myself, putting myself to bed was easy. Several nights involved me leaving a friend’s house early, leaving the bar early, or cutting the conversation short so that I could get to bed by 10:30 (which I’ve learned is not appreciated by girlfriends). Chances are, your buddies or your significant other is not going to accept, “Sorry, I have to go to sleep so I can get a full 8 hours” as an excuse for not hanging out or not talking. However, I made a goal to myself that I would start taking care of my sleeping habits this month and that is what I did. As a result I actually feel fantastic but it definitely took a concerted effort.
I got in the habit of sleeping a full 8 hours, then when my alarm went off in the morning, I snoozed it for 15 minutes more, and then had no problem waking up on the 2nd alarm. My morning wakeup before this month went something like this: annoying preset alarm on my cellphone goes off, I respond “Argh F*$K”, and I start the day angry. This month I felt significantly better starting my day knowing and feeling that I had a full nights rest, I highly recommend it despite what your friends think of you. I’m still not sure that 8 hours is the magic number, but that’s not the point, the point is that I hadn’t been taking care of my health and I made a conscious effort to slow down and take care of myself.
The other goal of this month was to rekindle a practice I started in high school but let drop off during engineering school; keeping a dream journal. I have some pretty wild dreams and so I’ve wanted to get into the habit of writing them down again but just haven’t done it. This month has refocused that effort and the result has been pretty awesome.
Like a good engineer I analyzed my dreams by putting them into nine different categories just to see what patterns emerged. 45% of my dreams involved work in some capacity which is a bit unfortunate considering for me, work is work, do it 9-5 and leave it there. So I wasn’t happy to see that it followed me into my dreams. A great example of this was my post on “Where are my Adventure Dreams?“ I hate to waste a perfectly nice night of dreams on something work related.
Fortunately, the majority of my dreams involved adventures. I spend most of my week planning trips for the weekend so naturally, adventure is on my mind daily if not almost hourly. Close to 60% of my dreams involved adventure (sometimes work and adventure, but that would be an ideal situation wouldn’t it?). A few of my favorite adventure dreams were “Muslims in Nepal“, “Avalanches“, and “Biking Across the USA” because they involved world travel, big mountains, snow, and learning about myself.
Another area I looked at was WHO was in my dreams. More often than not, my dream was filled with strangers (45% of dreams), nebulous dream characters who I simply interacted with throughout the dream. 20% of my dreams involved me being alone the entire time, 15% involved my girlfriend, and 20% involved friends from real life. It’s interesting that the majority of my dreams involved people I didn’t know, I wonder why that is and what it says about my subconscious.
Lastly, I also rated my dreams as realistic or wildly unrealistic and unfortunately, the realistic dreams won 55% to 45%. Given the choice, I’d rather have my dreams be so outrageously unrealistic that I would wake up to my alarm clock saying, “Wow that was incredible” versus “Hmm that was totally normal”. Normal is for real life, adventure and unreal scenarios are for your dream life. A few of my favorite unrealistic dreams were, “Underwater Battle with Megatron“, “Basement Technology and Unicorn Blankets“, and “X-Men Taking Over My Brain“.
I highly recommend keeping a dream journal, it’s not hard to start that habit. Simply keep either your laptop or a notebook/pen right next to your bed and while you’re still groggy in the morning write down your dreams before they escape your mind. I’ve found that the more I do this, not only does it become easier to remember your dreams, you tend to have more intense and detailed dreams. The ultimate goal would be to dream lucidly (i.e. control your dream life) but that is harder to come by and can take years of effort. It’s really fun to look back at your dreams. I went through my dream journal from high school with Sarah and it was crazy to see some of the things my sleeping mind was creating.
As with all of my life experiments thus far, the goal has been to lead an examined life (Yvon Chouinard founder of Patagonia) through making a concerted effort for 30days to relook at how I live my life and challenge myself to live differently. I’ve seen the results of my 30day life experiments filter into the rest of my daily life as new habits and ways of living. I’m hoping that sleeping well and keeping a dream journal follows suit and becomes standard practice moving forward.