Sleep and Productivity

Sleep and Productivity

Sleep and I have always had an interesting relationship. Since high school, I’ve trended toward being a night person — I clearly recall staying up very late and playing Gran Turismo on my Playstation until the wee hours of the morning, even on school nights.

That pattern continued through my college years, when I became infamous for staying up all night, until the cafeteria in our dormitory opened for breakfast, and then falling into a coma until early afternoon.

Eventually I took advantage of my night owl status, finding a job as the night attendant at a campus apartment. This meant sitting behind the front desk from 4am-7am, either playing video games or working on (mind rending!) math homework. Usually, I’d sleep a few hours before my shift, catch a few more Zs afterward, and then head off to class around 11am.

Even when working a 9-to-5 gig in Korea, I still managed to continue my weird sleep ways, sometimes staying up ridiculously late to watch Green Bay Packers games before going to work, taking a short nap during lunch, and then crashing as soon as I got home.

Thankfully, by the end of my stint in Korea I had fallen into a more typical sleep schedule, going to sleep earlier at night and avoiding after-school naps.

Through all this, I’ve realized that staying up late isn’t a problem in and of itself. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, and I’m going to spend ~8 of them sleeping no matter what, right?

However, I have noticed that my level of productivity is much higher in the morning than it is late at night. There are two reason for this:

  1. Though I like staying up late, I don’t really feel like doing anything productive at night. This is especially true now that I’m working on independent projects. As a university student I had firm deadlines to deal with, which often forced me to work late into the night; now it’s all too easy for me to put off my work until tomorrow.
  2. Beyond that, my mornings are also much more free in general. I never have any social events scheduled in the morning, which makes it a great time to be productive. In contrast, if I wake up late I have a lot less time to get things done before I head off to meet friends in the evening.

Despite the above, I also know that, when left unchecked, my natural tendency is to wake up later and later. Yet obviously I can’t be productive in the morning if I’m not awake in the morning.

Thus my options are to:

  • Learn how to be more productive later in the day, or
  • Consistently wake up earlier

For the time being I’ve chosen the later option, primarily because even if I could become more productive in the evening, I’d have to pass up on social events to do so, and that’s a sacrifice I wouldn’t want to make.

So, this week I’m making a concerted effort to reset my internal clock. Basically, I do this by only allowing myself to sleep within “normal” sleeping hours. I do this by forcing myself to stay awake until at least 1opm and then making sure to get up at a reasonable hour the next morning.

Honestly, I’m not able to do this 100% of the time. In fact, on Monday I thought I was doing well — until I “napped” for about 5 hours after lunch. Whooops! Needless to say, I had a bit of trouble sleeping that night.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been doing much better, and all things considered the returns have been good so far. I’ve been writing more, studying more Chinese, and generally enjoying the daylight sunshine.

With a little effort, I believe I’ll be able to forge a new routine for myself and create a more consistent schedule as I continue to work and write. Which is good, because I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting too long for the next installment of The Northland Chronicles, now would I?

Note: I’m in Korea this weekend. After living here three years and leaving last August, I didn’t expect I’d be back so soon. Expect some Korea-related posts in the coming weeks!

Painting is by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Henry Olsen

Writer, adventurer, and humble servant of the universe since 1986.