What a pandemic has taught me – Lesson 5 (the final lesson)

The lessons I’ve learned, or that have been re-enforced/re-introduced during a pandemic are not limited to just these five.  However, I’ve decided this is the last lesson I’m going to post.  The rest are now material for future blogs.  You’re welcome!

For lesson number 5, I’ve decided to just tell you what the lesson is right out of the gate.  No mystery buildup; which I do love but only to a certain extent. The fifth lesson that a pandemic taught me was that I was not getting enough sleep.  And I feel like that is pretty stupid to have to learn that from a pandemic, especially being in the fitness industry, but our lessons from the universe come to us when we need them the most.  

As most people, over the years I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with sleep.  When we are kids we don’t want to sleep, or at least I didn’t.  I didn’t want to miss out on what the adults were doing.  I’d hide under the (glass) coffee table and think my parents couldn’t see me.  Haha.  No blonde jokes allowed! Around the age of 12 (my mother was unable to verify how old I was but she remembers the period well), I experienced what I called “the summer of insomnia”.  I remember it so vividly and it sucked so bad.  If you’ve never suffered from insomnia, even that long ago, you can’t really empathize with any one who’s had it.  I have no idea how or why it started (neither does my mother).  I don’t remember anything particularly stressful, traumatic or upsetting going on in my life at the time. All I remember is that I’d go to bed and lie there awake…and lie there awake, and lie there awake.  I’d watch the numbers flip on my super cool alarm clock (of course, you heard the click of the numbers changing which sounded super loud in a quiet house when all you wanted to do was sleep).  I’d get up and pace around our basement so I wouldn’t wake anyone up.  It got to the point where I absolutely dreaded going to bed. Which only made it worse because I’d get all stressed out about not falling asleep hours before I went to bed to stay awake.  And then all of a sudden, I started sleeping again.  Bam. And I don’t remember any event that made that change, I just remember that it stopped.  

Then I became a typical teen who wanted to stay up until the wee hours talking on the phone.  Primarily because we had strict time limits on phone calls when my parents were up, so it was when they were asleep that I could spend hours talking to my friends about nothing or boys.  Or spend hours talking to boys.  We also had strict rules on not sleeping past 9:00am, so I ran on little sleep anyway.  My mom would barge in singing some super annoying “good morning” song, whip the blinds open, declare it to be a beautiful day not to be wasted and tug the covers down.  I am not exaggerating. It would be many, many years later that I learned to appreciate not wasting day light.  

In university, my life was studying (and cleaning if you read lesson 4).  But those were the years that I could watch whatever I wanted on TV, whenever I wanted.  I loved late night TV and my sleep schedule suffered because of it.  Thankfully, I did very well in school, but as I think back now with the research I’ve learned about sleep, I wonder where I would have ended up if I was actually rested.  Huh.

In my early working years, I lived on a pony farm and then a beef farm.  Part of the deal was that our rent was significantly reduced we did chores on the farm each day.  So, mornings were early for chores and nights were late studying for CA exams or working late.  Again, I did fairly well on my exams during that time but wonder how I would have done if I hadn’t been so sleep deprived.  

Over the ensuing years, I just figured 5, 6, or on a good night, 7 hours of sleep was enough.  There was so much to do! I took up Bon Jovi’s words of wisdom that are now not so wise “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”.  

During 2014, I broke off a relationship in which I’d been absolutely miserable (ask my friends and family who were about to do an intervention!).  I may have been the first person in history to gain weight after a break up (I was down to about 118 lbs and to put that in perspective, my normal weight was always 135-140 and I run a little bit higher now, which my mother calls “happy fat”). Anyhow, I went through an intense 12 months of introspection.  And during that time, I realized that I was not a night hawk; that it was just a bad sleep habit I’d picked up.  I also took a seminar on the importance of sleep.  It was a bit of a game changer. I started to go to bed around 11:00 and then 10:00.  This then allowed me to get up earlier to incorporate the mediation practice that had been on again/off again over the past few years and I wanted to solidify it as a healthy way to start my day.  I got up around 5:45 to allow for the activities that made a healthy start to my day.  With this change in sleep habits, I did feel better and managed to get 6 1/2 to 7 hours of sleep consistently.  

My parents were astounded.  For so many years when they came to visit from Schomberg, they’d toddle off to bed around 10:30 and I used to stay up until 1:00ish watching movies.  Suddenly, I was the one toddling off to bed at 10:00 and telling them not to be noisy!

Fast forward to 2020, COVID happens, and I’m working from home.  Now, I’m assuming you’ve already read lesson 1 which discusses working from home and how glorious it is.  But I didn’t get into the impact it’s had on my sleep.  

Working from home, and even the days I go into the office now, allow me to sleep until 6:45 (going to bed at 10:30).  That’s an extra hour of sleep.  Now, I knew I was always still a bit tired before this.  I just chalked it up to working full time, running a business on the side, maintaining some type of fitness regime and still making my relationship a priority.  It was just the cost of the life I was living. Until I started to get that one extra hour of sleep!  One hour. What a world of difference!  Now, my business had to cease classes for 3 months, but I think I made up for it by taking courses, planning future classes, writing again and bumping up my fitness regime.  I definitely filled that gap.  

Then I read the book “The Sleep Revolution” by Arianna Huffington after listening to an interview with her during a podcast.  I’m going to give you some information and stats right out of her book that should make you rethink how important sleep is too.  

First of all, when you are sleep deprived, you are the equivalent of being intoxicated or impaired.  Even just one night. According to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, “sleepiness-related motor vehicle crashes have a fatality rate and injury severity level similar to alcohol related crashes”.  Second of all,  sleep is a vital function similar to breathing and eating.  Your body will actually choose sleep over eating if forced.  Sleep allows for a whole bunch of complex functions to happen while we are seemingly at rest; it helps with memory (typically moving short term to long term), our ability to learn, brain development and cleaning (there is a very strong link between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s), appetite (sleep deprived people typically weigh more and can’t lose the weight), immune function (you get sick more or don’t get over sickness as quickly) and aging (yes, when you get enough sleep you look younger).  On that last point, Christina Aguilera, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda all attribute getting enough sleep with how they look as they age.  Third of all, getting enough sleep significantly affects your mood, well-being and performance.  Many athletes can attest to better performance when they increased their sleeping hours  As part of a research project, elite athletes that were sleeping 5-6 hours per night had their stats taken on key parts of their sport.  Then as part of the project, they got 8-8.5 hours sleep per night for two weeks.  They had their stats taken again on the same key parts of their sport and performance improved 9% in all areas.  That’s a huge increase for an already elite athlete!  

(From The Sleep Revolution) The National Sleep Foundation breaks down sleep by age:

  • Newborns (0-3 months) – 14-17 hours 
  • Infants (4-11 months) – 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years) – 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years) – 10-13 hours
  • School age (6-13) – 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17) – 8-10 hours
  • Young adults (18-25) – 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64) – 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+) – 7-8 hours

Where do you fall?  If you feel a bit tired (or a lot tired) all the time, see how you feel if you get just another hour of sleep each night.  The range for most of us is 7-9 hours.  I am definitely an 8 hour girl.  If I go to sleep and not wake to an alarm clock, I wake up almost exactly 8 hours later every time.  Working from home allowed me to discover my true sleep requirement to be healthy.  And as you read in lesson 1, I found myself so much more productive working from home.  This would be part of the reason why.  I’m no longer sleep deprived and my cognitive abilities have improved.

Why oh why did I not discover this so many years earlier? I guess I can say, thank you pandemic (or in reality, Universe), for the lessons I needed to learn at this time.  

Did you learn any lessons as a result of the pandemic?  Feel free to email them to me and maybe we can do a collection of stories to help others!