Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Praise of Sleep

It's Reading Break! Phew....

Somehow I've managed to get halfway through my first semester of teaching, and coincidentally, half way through my first stack of papers. I've been grading leisurely this past week, with curling in the background (the Canadian Women's Curling Championships ended a week ago), finally with space, it seems, to breathe.

This past weekend was one of the most relaxing I've had in quite some time. With no teaching pressures for the next week, I wasn't trying to cram every spare moment with reading, writing lectures, or class prep of some sort or another. I took my daughter to an indoor playground, baked muffins, slept in, lazed around my house in my pajamas, and vacuumed my whole house for the first time in (gulp) over six months. It was really nice.

If I haven't said so before, I'm going to say it now: teaching for the first time is intense and exhausting. Selecting books and writing the syllabus aside, the weekly lecture writing, assignment creation, and grading (my students do weekly reading responses), has made me, well...a bit frazzled. So far, I've been managing (with only a week of major slip-ups) to stick to my semester goal to keep my teaching prep to teaching days, write two days a week, and spend daily and weekend time with my family. But it has come at a cost: my sleep.

Sleep has been shown to be essential to all kinds of things: memory, focus, and concentration, safety, immune function, cardiovascular health...I could go on. But one of the things I've just started to piece together about myself and sleep is that when I don't get enough of it, my stress levels go up exponentially. It doesn't matter if all my work is done or if I'm fully on top of all my responsibilities, if I'm not getting enough sleep, I'm stressed. Period. And stress, apparently, does not do good things to your brain.

You'd think being several years into a PhD program would mean that I would have already figured out this crucial bit of information. But, believe it or not, PhD + Baby ≠ deep and intimate knowledge of the value of sleep. Although I've learned to deeply appreciate the moments when I have the "luxury" of sleep, I've failed to make it a priority.

This reading week, I'm determined change that, and I'm hoping my resolve will stick around for the semester. 

Do you prioritize sleep? Or is it often the first thing that falls to the wayside when you're busy?

4 comments:

  1. Ahhh. Sleep throws me under the bus. I get insomniac if I work too much. Normally, I only work too much when there's too much to do, but then when I don't sleep (wake up 2am; stare at ceiling until 5am) I can't stop working because there's still too much to do and then more insomnia.

    So I'm medicated for that now.

    Ideally, I can quit working for the day by 6pm. This gives me enough breathing room to let it all go before I go to bed around 10, so my brain is not still whirring and processing while I try to go to sleep. That's something I've had to learn over the years. I would sometimes really love to be able to work with only the midnight oil for company. But then I don't sleep at all. Ugh.

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    1. Getting in the no sleep - stress cycle is THE WORST. Stress = no sleep = stress = no sleep ad infinitum. Yikes.

      I actually like working in the evenings after my daughter goes to bed, and it tends not to stress me out. Usually I find that if I do an extra hour (or even fifteen minutes) of work before bed, I'm actually less stressed out than I would be if I did no work and instead just stew it over in my head. The problem is actually stopping in time to wind down. I find if I stop by ten, I'm fine. That usually leaves me enough time to do some physical work around the house and let my brain turn off.

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  2. Hang in there, Jana! It does get easier once you have more teaching under your belt. But going without sleep is the number one coping strategy of academic women (except the sensible ones like Aimée) it seems: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0954025032000170309#.UwPYkGRDswM

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  3. Oh yes, the sleep quandary. Like you, my issues seem to be a "doing things for the first time thing." I've always been a good sleeper, but this new job is throwing me for a loop. For periods of about two or three weeks at a time, which come and go, I'll wake up between 4 and 5 with my mind just racing, and there's no going back to sleep after that. Happens on weekends too. Ugh. Yoga helps. So does meditation, and CBT. But I'm pretty sure that it's going to keep happening until September, when I've been at work for a full year, done most things at least once, and it all stops being quite so new.

    I also like doing a bit of work in the evening. I try to spend a little time on my dissertation on my breaks and lunch at work, and the nice thing about doing that is I tend to come home excited to keep going for awhile longer.

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