Back in high school, my life revolved around Minecraft. From the time I got back from school to late into the night, my Skype online friends and I were Minecrafting. On weekends, I would record videos for my Youtube channel. As fun as this time was, sleeping 4-5 hours each night was taking a toll on my body. I'd fall asleep in half my classes, developed IBS, and my sinuses would never stop running.

My highschool life

After spending a few thousand hours of my life in Minecraft, I knew it was time to move on in my final year of high school. I started sleeping enough (9 hours) that I could naturally wake up in time for school. Magically, my IBS went away, my sinuses cleared up, and of course, I stopped sleeping in class.

I'm not sure if it's increased mental awareness or increased physical sensitivity, but I've become a lot more sensitive to sleep deficiency. If I lose even a few hours of sleep and don't make it up, my IBS and sinus issues return. However, the biggest impact is in my mental state. When I'm tired, I become angry far easier and a lot less patient. I've noticed this behaviour in others as well.

My face when tired

One objection to sleeping 9 hours a day is that I'm missing out on life, but are you really living life if you're a zombie? When someone is tired, they're generally observing life rather than participating it. It's almost like they're living in third person. Experiences don't trigger the same emotions or form the same memories that you'll remember later in life. On top of this, you lose the self control to put down your electronics and you'll often end up sleeping even later in a positive (it's actually a pretty negative thing) feedback cycle.

You become a zombie when you lose sleep

All this sounds great, but that's not the full story. Once in a blue moon, there will be a night I stay up and experience intense emotions and inspiration. These times have lurched me into action more than any other time.

At some point in high school, I was obsessed with LED lights. I knew they were the future and wanted to take part in selling them. My friend and I schemed about the idea, but we never really kicked it into action. Then one night, I felt an intense urge to put make my idea a reality. I spent hours building a business plan and began making sales calls the next day.

I wasn't the best salesman so the business didn't really pan out, but I'm amazed at how my emotions that night suddenly kicked me into action.

LED bulbs were a bright idea

It's hard to say whether staying up later resulted in these heightened emotions or whether my racing brain kept me up later, but it shows that it doesn't always make sense to maintain a strict sleep schedule. This can be likened to the tales of programmers working late into the night producing their best work. As a software engineer myself, I can attest to having a few of these sessions in the past. Whether I produced quality work is unclear.

As long as it doesn't become a pattern, it may not be a bad idea to stay up late every so often. Who knows what inspiration you'll get. Just be sure to make up the sleep.

Before wrapping up, let's quickly talk about how much sleep you should get. I found that simply letting your body wake up naturally is the best way to figure out how much sleep you need. I found myself waking up after very close to 9 hours of sleep every night. There are two separate sleep concepts you should be aware of: sleep debt and sleep cycles.

Sleep debt accumulates when you get less sleep than your body requires (9 hours for me). You should attempt to make up this lost sleep by sleeping longer one day within two weeks. Your body should naturally want to sleep the extra time. From what I've read, after two weeks, you're no longer able to make up the lost sleep and your IQ will be permanently decreased.

Have you ever been woken up in the middle of an incredible dream? I have been many times. It feels bad when you're experiencing bliss one moment then wake up and realize you're back in real life. Sleep cycles correspond to the different phases your brain undergoes during sleep. Interrupting these sleep cycles can lead to grogginess when you wake up. They generally occur in about 90 minute intervals meaning you should sleep in multiples of this (7.5, 9 hours, etc.).

There's always those times when you just can't seem to fall asleep. Resist the urge to grab your phone and start Redditing or messaging people (I fail at this sometimes). Instead, use that time to question all the decisions you've made resulting in your sleepless night. In my experience, there's a few things you can do to increase your chances of falling asleep when you want to.

  • Install f.lux or enable night mode (if you're on an Apple device). I've had people complain that it makes them sleepy. That's exactly what it's supposed to do.
  • If you feel sleepy, you've missed your chance to fall asleep for about another half hour.
  • Try not to do any intense physical activity within two hours of going to bed
  • Try not to talk (vocally) within an hour of going to bed
  • Sleep in a dark and cool room

I haven't cited any studies because I wanted to add my personal anecdotes to the conversation about sleep. This is my story of how I recovered from persistent sleep deprivation. Hopefully it inspires you to fix your own sleep so that you can live a more fulfilling life.

I just spent way too long writing this at work and should probably go home and sleep now. I think it's worth sacrificing a bit of sleep when I have the inspiration to write though.

Hmm, or maybe I should pick Minecraft back up.