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In Praise of Sleep

Sleep: the ultimate performance-enhancing drug!

Why this naive notion of trying to not sleep?

Cindy photograph of me, while I'm sleeping at Ryokan in Uji, 2016

Last night I got to bed at 9pm, and woke up today at 11:30am. I felt I died and came back to life.

When do NFL players sleep?

Apparently some of the top athletes (Tom Brady) sleeps at 8:30pm every night. Even James Harden apparently hits the hay at around 8pm. I think Lebron James sleeps 10-12 hours every night.

Mattress bed sleep

Generally speaking people say you “should”sleep around 8 hours a night. What if you’re like me, and prefer to get 10-12 hours of sleep a night?

“You can sleep when you’re dead”

Japan man sleeping on subway train

There is this strange machismo associated with sleeping less. Often many people brag about how little they sleep. Of course college students are notorious for pulling “all nighters”and the such.

Then there are many adults who brag that they only sleep 4, 5, or 6 hours a night, and think that sleeping 8+ hours a night is “unnecessary”or a “waste”. I think it comes down to this Protestant work ethic mentality:

To achieve more with less sleep is virtuous.

Uppers and downers galore

Suits nyc

Many individuals are addicted to “uppers”during the day (coffee, tea, Red Bull, Ritalin, addy, cocaine, etc) and then addicted to “downers”in the evening (melatonin, alcohol, sleeping aids, weed, etc). What happens? We destroy our ability to sleep — true, deep, recuperative sleep.

When is the last time I woke up truly refreshed and pumped for the day?

Coffee espresso

I’m a coffee fiend. At this point when I wake up, I feel like a shitty soggy potato without my (strong) caffeine to get me going.

And it is a bad cycle — having coffee at night keeps me up. Ruined sleep. Less recovery, then the next day I increase the dose of caffeine to just keep me at maintenance levels.

coffee bubbles macro
Coffee bubbles

Prioritize your sleep above all.

I found this:

To maximize my productivity, I need to maximize my sleep.

For example, if I don’t sleep enough the night prior, my entire next day is ruined. Even a trillion cups of coffee isn’t gonna help.

Lack of sleep and depression

Also, I find for myself— if I don’t sleep enough, or don’t sleep deeply enough, I often feel depressed. To me, the physiological weakness associated with being sleep deprived is worse than torture. It’s one of the worst physiological pains. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture device.

Inverse

Even if you gave me a billion dollars on the condition that I would be sleep deprived for the rest of my life, I would resolutely say “no”.

Changing the sleep culture

In America and much of the west, it is seen as a sin to “sleep too much”. There is also this strange congratulations we give people who are able to function and “be productive”with less sleep.

My first idea:

Better to brag about how much you sleep, than how little you sleep.

Photograph by Eric Kim Mumbai

Everyone is different

Obviously everyone is different. If you’re the type of person who prefers to sleep BEYOND 8 hours a night (I prefer 10-12 hours a night), refuse to allow anyone to guilt you or try to make you feel ashamed.

My mom sleeping
My mom taking a nap

My decree:

Feel zero ounces of regret or remorse for sleeping a shit-ton.

It takes more skill to sleep early than to wakeup early

It is so easy to screw around on your laptop or phone until 1-2am in the morning than to have the discipline to get to bed by 8:30-9pm. There’s so much great films, shows, and entertainment out there.

My tip is this:

Try to get to bed super early, and just put on an eye mask and some ear plugs. It might take you 1-1.5 hours to actually fall asleep. But this is a good time for you to think, reflect, and actually use your mind to “entertain” yourself!

For example when I’m lying in bed, I think about a trillion things. I cannot fall asleep instantly. It often takes me an hour to fall asleep. But at least I can use this opportunity to reflect and think! Better to think and reflect than to bombard yourself with more audio-visual stimulation via Netflix, YouTube, social media, in the evening.

My mom — a champion sleeper.

Why sleep?

I think a lot of people in Silicon Valley are trying to “hack sleep”. I think if there were a pill that eliminated our need for sleep, everyone would take it.

But but let us do a thought experiment:

Let’s say there was a drug which eliminated our need to sleep with zero downsides. Would we still want to take it?

Is there something existential for humans to sleep?

Cindy sleeping marseille papers

Sleep science

There’s a lot of science on sleep going on now. There’s many theories on how sleep helps us consolidate memories, blah blah blah. We all know that “sleep is good for us”. But once again — does it matter what the science says?

Even if sleep science told us that sleeping more would increase our income by 10x, I don’t think this information would change our behavior. Once again — this cultural norm of sleeping less, achieving more, and being more productive is so deeply ingrained in us, and the guilt associated with “sleeping too much”(sloth-like behavior).

We need a new philosophy on sleep.

More sleep for more muscles

back muscle flex eric kim

I know for myself:

When I do extremely taxing and epic powerlifting and weight lifting, I must sleep more.

For example if I attempt a 445 pound deadlift, or a 345 pound squat, or attempt a new PR in bench press, I sleep a shitload that night.

My simple theory:

The more we sleep, the more our muscles, bones, sinews, nerves, etc recovers and becomes more powerful.

Therefore if sleeping more increases my muscle mass, decreases my bodyfat percentage, and increases my muscular strength, the more sleep the better!

What if sleeping less made you fatter?

Apparently if you sleep less, your body produces more ‘ghrelin‘ (the ‘hunger hormone’). Therefore if you are sleep deprived, you might eat more crap, and put on more fat.

But science aside– I wonder:

If it were a fact that sleeping less would cause you to positively put on lots of excess adipose tissue (body fat), would people still want to sleep little?

What if sleeping less caused you to live fewer years?

There are conflicting studies on sleep and life expectancy. Some studies suggest that sleeping ‘too much’ leads to more early-deaths. Other studies suggest that sleeping ‘too little’ causes more early-deaths.

Let us say that sleeping less caused us to live fewer years. Would people still care?


Sleep as an aesthetic thing?

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter how much you sleep or how little you sleep. Only you are the judge of how much sleep you like, or how little sleep you like.

You actually might genuinely only ‘need’ 5 hours of sleep a night. Or you might ‘need’ 12 hours of sleep a night. I suggest you to experiment with yourself.

But my heuristic:

When in doubt, sleep more.

Why? Modern society’s bias is towards sleeping less. Therefore I am sure most people are sleep deprived without even knowing it. And to sleep less is a race to the bottom. Nobody strives to sleep more.

taxi sleep

How to conquer insomnia

There is another class of people:

People who WANT to sleep more, but are plagued with chronic insomnia.

I’ve suffered much insomnia in my life as well. These are the practical things which have helped me:

  1. Don’t have coffee, caffeinated tea, or cocoa after dinner.
  2. An hour or two before you want to sleep, turn off all the lights in your apartment or house. Make it super dark.
  3. Don’t watch anything super entertaining or engaging before you sleep. Whenever I watch films or TV shows at night, I cannot sleep as it excites me too much.
  4. At night, best to read books (doesn’t really matter if it is on iPad, Kindle, paper back, etc). There seems to be something very beneficial of reading at night which helps us fall asleep.
  5. Turn off your phone in the evening. If you need to wakeup with an alarm clock, use a ‘standalone’ alarm clock to wake you up.
  6. Ensure that everyday you do some sort of physically taxing or difficult activity. For example, lift heavy weights everyday, or walk for many miles, do yoga, etc — anything which physically exhausts your body.
  7. Have a fatty and heavy meat-based dinner: Consume fatty cuts of pork belly, ground beef, eggs, etc at night. Eating foods with higher-saturated fats help me fall asleep better at night.

The best thing about being self-employed

Cindy kyoto

I’ve found that one of the best blessings in life is this:

Sleep when you want to, and wakeup when you want to (without an alarm clock).

If you love sleep, and want to sleep according to your own schedule, strive to become self-employed.

I haven’t used an alarm clock to wakeup the last 10 years of my life (besides when I need to wakeup for an early flight), and it is one of the greatest blessings known to man. If you consider this appealing, trust me– YOU MUST BECOME SELF-EMPLOYED! [See Photography Entrepreneurship 101]

Conclusion: Even the gods sleep

To study sleep, look no further than the ancient greeks.

Even the gods of Ancient Greece sleep.

If Zeus loves to sleep, why can’t you?

ERIC

By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher