Self-inflicted sleep deprivation and its effect on discipline
Have you ever experienced how a lack of sleep can derail even the most established habits and routines? You're not alone!
Posted on July 3, 2020
In the last few days, I have allowed myself to take a break from work and indulge in personal projects like blogging. While it feels great to be in the zone and let the creativity flow, it can have a not-so-great side effect: self-inflicted sleep deprivation.
For example, let's say you're in a writing session. You need to go to the bathroom, but you're just going to finish this sentence first. And maybe that paragraph as well. And shouldn't this text be at the beginning...?
Suddenly it's 3 AM, and you still haven't peed.
If we get so consumed with what we are doing that we neglect basic human needs, what about stuff that requires discipline and willpower? Stuff that we usually consider essential, like eating healthy and working out?
Well, we probably won't do it. And even though we don't fall off the wagon entirely, it still is an uphill struggle to get it done.
Most people can get away with pulling an all-nighter. You have to strike while the iron is hot, and if you have a creative moment, you might as well seize it.
What I am talking about here is something different. It's when you get this burst of creative energy that lasts for days, bordering obsession. When you are so deep into what you are doing that you forget to take a break.
For me, the pattern can look something like this:
I lose myself in something creative, like editing videos, programming, writing a blog post, or making a song. Or something trivial, like playing a video game. Time flies, and I forget to go to bed, staying up way beyond my regular bedtime.
Since I "don't have time" to cook, I'm snacking away on nuts and whatever I can find in the cupboards.
Running into a problem with something: a programming bug or an elusive sentence on the tip of my tongue. The comfort eating reflex kicks in and screams EAT ALL THE THINGS!
My latest episode of this happened just the other day when I was rebooting this blog. I was migrating the code to newer technology and got stuck in the process.
And after a few hours of banging my head against a wall, I just wanted to resolve the problem and move on. I couldn't muster the discipline required to do the right thing—take a break.
In psychology, Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that we can consume during the day, like the gas tank in a car.
Everything we do that require discipline or focus uses up that mental fuel, from resisting a cookie to battling a problem at work. And when the gas tank is down to fumes, we are much more susceptible to make bad decisions. Like eating whipped cream, berries, and peanuts for dinner.
The bad news is that sleep deprivation effectively decreases the size of your gas tank. Interestingly enough, some studies also suggest that consuming glucose could replenish self-control performance - which explains why so many of us crave sugar when we start to feel exhausted.
Bottom line: everything depends on you getting adequate sleep. And for most people, this means 8 hours, every night.
While I have gotten away with neglecting sleep many times without affecting my diet or my exercise habit, the fact remains:
Every time I DID fall off the wagon, it started with a lack of sleep.
From now on, I will utilize the Pomodoro technique for the fun stuff as well, as I already do at work.
Ok, time for a break. I'm just going to rewrite this sentence first.
What's your experience with this? Leave a comment below!
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