Sleep Hygiene

I visited a friend earlier this year, and we were out with his wife at a board game party having a grand ole time. At some not-unreasonably-late hour his wife said “I have to go home now, it’s my bedtime.” I thought this was strange: I haven’t personally had a bedtime since middle school. I responded “It’s fine: tomorrow’s a holiday, so no one has a bedtime!” She narrowed her eyes at me and said, “Well, *I* maintain good sleep hygiene.” Can’t argue with that! We left the party and (one hopes) got back in time for bed.

I had no idea what the phrase “sleep hygiene” meant at the time. What she said to me made me wonder if I was somehow a dirty sleeper. I mean, sure: I drool. Luckily for me, another friend soon recommended a book which explained everything. It’s by Matthew Walker, and it’s called Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.

Other than the basics of what exactly we mean by “sleep hygiene” (a simple google search can answer that), the book describes research on the phases of sleep and each of their relevance in our waking lives. It answered some questions I have always had such as:

  • Why do I work on a math problem for hours and feel completely stuck only to wake up from a nap with the correct solution?
  • Why do I show more improvement in piano the next day than after an hour of practice?
  • Why do I feel more hungry if I didn’t sleep well the night before?
  • Why do I have worse self-control if I’m sleep deprived?
  • Why was it so hard to wake up early and go to sleep early as a teenager?
  • Why do old people sleep less?
  • Can you actually die of sleep deprivation?

Anyway, I highly recommend the book. It’s one of my bibles now, along with Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Dr. Jason Fung’s The Obesity Code. Though I am not quite as strict about bedtime as my friend’s wife, I have learned a lot from the book about the myriad of benefits of a good night’s sleep and the perils of not sleeping enough. Plus, now I have science on my side when I argue that it’s good for me and not just pure laziness that I sleep as much as I do!

Life-changing, indeed

I just read Marie Kondo’s “the life-changing magic of tidying up” in one afternoon. I think it’s one of the most touching books I’ve ever read, and even after memorizing her philosophy and putting her method to use, I would still keep a copy of this book on my bookshelf.

The introduction sounds a bit like an infomercial, talking up the (unproven) benefits of tidying, which are said to include weight loss, better looking skin, and even finding your purpose in life. It was a little off-putting (after all, I’m reading this book, so I’m already sold on the idea of tidying) but power through it. It does get better.

So, this isn’t a technical guide. It’s not one of these no-nonsense “10 steps to a cleaner house” sort of things. Where you get rid of X things every day or you clean K square feet. It isn’t antiseptic that way. Her book is more like a philosophy of life. Why won’t you need to tidy ever again? Because you’ll have gotten rid of most of your things. But the point is: you can clearly live without those things.

What drew me to this book was the premise that we should only have things we love. The things we own should spark joy, she reiterates throughout. She personifies things in what is perhaps a Shinto tradition. I grew up as an only child and did the same. I felt very sorry for the stoplights, doing their jobs throughout the night even when there were no drivers to benefit from their labors. It becomes much easier to let go of my things and to quiet the internal monologue (“but that was expensive” “I’ll wear it when it’s warmer out” “I could wear it around the house” “I could still need that someday” “I haven’t read that yet”) when I think about how my just things want to be useful to me and I’m shoving them into a dark corner of a closet to die slowly of neglect. That’s sad. Sadder than slavery and the holocaust combined. And it’s my fault. But there’s something I can do about it.

I can set my things free. I can give them a better life with someone who will appreciate them and use them. My things and their new owners can be happy together. The beautiful thing is that my old items won’t go to waste. They’ll go to Goodwill, or clothing swaps. They’ll be sold on the dozens of selling apps I have or given away on Yerdle. I only hope they will bring joy to someone else.