October 27, 2009

On the blessing of a flu and the curse of habit

A couple of years ago, I caught a flu. I was out sick from work, and pretty much out of commission altogether, for almost a week.

Because I was officially offline from any normal responsibilities, a strange thing happened: I went to sleep far earlier than usual, at 9:00 to 9:30 every night—tired. I didn’t have a stressful day of work to look forward to, so, paradoxically (but, on the other hand, obviously), I woke up easily in the morning.

When I went back to work after nearly a week of unfettered sleep, I was sharper than I’d been in years, sleep-enriched and optimized. Wide awake, mentally focused, amazingly capable. “I ought to get the flu more often,” I thought. I felt fantastic for at least a week.

But my sleep habits, in both timing and mental state, slowly returned to “normal”: Hit the snooze button a few times, get up groggy and almost literally weighted by the backlog waiting for me at the office, drag myself through the morning preparations and commute, slog through most of the workday, stay into the evening because focus only really arrives in the late afternoon and I want to keep getting things done while I’m in the zone, get home later than I’d like, force myself to stay awake through my prime tired period (during which I could put my head down and effortlessly pass out) so I can attend to the evening dishes/garbage/recycling/ablutions/whatever, get hit by my second wind and take hours to unwind, and go to bed late.

I am guessing I’m not the only one stuck in this cycle. I wonder if it isn’t “normal” for a majority of people, but who bothers to talk about it?

The crucial habit I need to acquire, now that I’ve thought this out, is to push myself hard to wrap up all the evening responsibilities before the natural tiredness hits, and see if the rest of the schedule realigns itself accordingly. My body seems to want to sleep at a particular time—and structuring my schedule around that time may sound stupidly obvious, but old habits are hard to break, and I wonder if this bad habit isn’t ingrained in our society itself.

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