There’s a weird phenomenon, when you fast from eating. When you fast, whether it be for religious reasons, or oh-god-let-this-colonoscopy-get-here-already-eque health reasons, at the end of that 24 hours, you think “I’m going to eat ALL THE FOOD,” you sit down at the dinner table, and your belly fills up after a forkful of lettuce. You just can’t eat any more; you don’t remember what it feels like.
Sleep deprivation is kind of the same way. Sleep starts to become this thing you desperately want and cannot process. It’s the agony and the ecstasy of the second wind.
The second wind has got to be the most dangerous part about the night shift. Usually, I start my “day job” at 11pm or 1am when I head to the lab. This part of my day I’m usually very alert for, as there tend to be a lot of nutty drivers on the road during the night. I expect it and I’m extra cautious. I pause extra long at intersections and look for night time joggers.
When I start to scare myself? Driving home at 10am the next morning, with all the normal people. Those people are driving on a (full or not) night of sleep and I’m the anomaly.
All the social cues are there: the sun has risen, the morning radio is on, I might have a cup of coffee. I feel normal, or even more than normal. I feel like a superhero that’s gone beyond needing sleep. And that’s a big fat lie.
You aren’t normal after a night awake- or at least I wasn’t one day last week. My eyes were heavy, my stomach was growling, my head was pounding… but my routine was telling me I was awake. ”It’s day time. Come on body, everybody else can do it. Are you a weenie? You have work to do when you get home.”
This is what I was thinking as I cascaded through a red light. Completely, totally, out of body. I immediately pulled over. No one was around, I didn’t hurt anybody. But I could have. I could have. And I have been hurting myself - I’m not getting enough sleep and it’s something I have to change right now.
I got home fine and went to sleep, and three hours later my phone starting going off. Emails arriving, things to follow up on, people asking simple questions who have no idea I’m trying to reset a horribly off internal clock. And I am such a nut, when my phone automatically turns on and the floodgate of emails arrives, I start responding. In bed. Maybe naked, and definitely way too tired.
The truth is, this is nobody’s responsibility but my own. I’m the only person capable of making my personal well-being and safety a priority.
I was going to end this post on a lighter note. I was thinking something along the lines of, “When you let yourself get so tired you literally fall asleep on your keyboard, you don’t do your clients any favors either.”
You know what? Fuck that - I never deserve to be that tired. My well-being does not come with the caveat of “…and also it’s good for my client.” Life is short, and quantifying how valuable it is based on how well I’m serving the people I work for is a disservice to my human nature itself. Eat. Sleep. Breath. That has to happen every day regardless of whether or not I’ve got clients.
I’m still trying to figure all this out, and I guess I don’t really know why I’m posting this on the internet for everybody to see. But I do think it’s good to lift up the hood from time to time, let everybody see what’s rumbling, and figure out how to make things better. After I take a nap.