A few weeks ago, I was buzzed awake by the mechanical sound of my alarm clock blaring in my ears: 6AM, my self-designated “time to get up.” This time was decided upon in correlation to my (also self assigned) bedtime of 10PM. With a day-to-day schedule that had recently started to feel more hectic than usual and my constant scramble between “being productive” (work, fitting in a daily run, eating well, etc.) and “being a person” (taking time to relax, read, nourish my relationships, etc.), I found myself in desperate need of a constant, a thing that could always be predicted and controlled. I decided what I needed was a dependable bed and wake up time in order to make the rest of my time more organized and less erratic. No more going to bed at 1AM one night and 8:30PM (I know) the next.
The first few weeks went well. I was feeling more rested, more on top of my schedule and less stressed about how my time was spent. However, one day I accidentally snoozed my alarm. And another night I didn't brush my teeth until 11:15. And eventually, my determination to adhere to this schedule I created started to deteriorate.
Which is most likely exactly why the following happened:
That morning, I fumbled to turn off the screeching alarm. My head was pounding, a combination of the sound still echoing in my ears and the fact that I had gone to bed way too late the night before. I walked down the hall to the bathroom, determined to get ready to fit in my morning run, start my day and get back on track. I flicked on the light switch and that’s when it happened: I fell.
I didn’t trip over anything, despite my cat Seymour walking in frantic circles by my ankles. I didn’t stumble. I fully lost my vision, saw nothing but black, fainted and fell to the floor.
Luckily, this was a pretty harmless fall. I hit my head on the wall on my way down, instead of the tile floor, and got by without any major damage other than a blinding reaction headache (even worse than the one I already had), a stiff back and a hefty dose of embarrassment. While this wasn’t quite as dramatic as Arianna Huffington’s snap back to reality. it happened for very some very similar reasons: being overly exhausted and sleep-deprived.
But how could this be? After all, I had a bedtime! One I hadn't been adhering to as of late, but still, it existed. The idea of my habit was still there, wasn't it?
If we're honest about the way we take care of ourselves, many times it's clear that we have better intentions than we do disciplines. Even if we know something will help us in the long run, we don't always make the right choice. In fact, sometimes it feels impossible to make the right choice when our judgment is clouded by other errors, such as lack of sleep or previous wrong choices (it's the well-I-might-as-well phenomenon). And even when we do make the "right choice", it's more than easy to assume that we’re doing everything right for ourselves (bedtime!) while we’re ignoring what we truly need. I’m not saying this as an open excuse to skip the gym and order takeout or ignore our need for sleep in lieu of a Netflix binge. But while we are so set on the value of hitting all the right marks in our day-to-day and even lifelong goals, what about this moment, right here and now?
In setting strict boundaries for myself and my habits (and then getting lax by ignoring my own warning signs), I forgot something very important: sometimes the rules don’t work. Sure, getting eight hours of sleep is a pretty tried-and-true recommendation and I personally know I function better when I’m rested.*** But I was so insistent on sticking with the go-to bed/wake up plan that I forgot to listen to myself. What was my body saying? What was my brain saying? Did I actually need more rest than usual? Should I have finished those final tasks before bed the night before so that my head felt clear and my mind relieved? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that in my attempt to operate under such a calculated, unforgiving routine, I forgot to make space to ask what I really needed. I forgot to be honest about how stressed I was feeling. I forgot to find something on my to-do list that could wait (believe me, there is always something). I forgot to close my eyes and take a breath. I forgot to stay grateful.
I think if we’re going to figure out what works best for ourselves, we have to always be willing to check back in and question it. If it worked for you to stay up until 2AM to finish a project in the past, would that work for you now? Would you feel exhilarated and accomplished or burnt out and like you didn't do your best work? If at one time you got energy from spending long weekends with friends, would you feel the same way today? Or would you need to counter that time with some intentional solitude and solo reflection? As we change, our needs change with us. Our skills excel in certain areas while they fall back in others. It’s a constant ebb and flow. Different times in our lives call for different focuses and repurposed intentions. We don’t have to fully ditch our routines to figure out what works. And sometimes life hits us over the head with this reminder, literally. Instead, let’s be conscious of our need to recalibrate. Let’s check in every now and then. It’s the best way to keep moving forward.
***In a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show that one in three adults does not get the minimum suggested seven hours of sleep a night.
Helen Williams is a Colorado transplant who is passionate about cooking, writing and combining the two on her vegetarian and vegan food blog, green girl eats. She strives, every day, to be less sorry. When she's not in the kitchen, you can find her reading, loving the community at Holstee or trying to pet your dog.
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