I’ve read a number of “Letters to My Younger Self” over the years, all very deep and thought-provoking. Pondering this concept recently, I wondered what I would offer by way of advice to my younger self. After much reflection, it came to me. If I were to pen this type of introspection, it would boil down to one word.
That’s right. Because youngsters don’t know that sleep is a privilege. A luxury that will disappear at some point. I mean, unless you are some unicorn version of the female species, in which case I offer hearty congrats. Whether it be pregnancy, motherhood, menopause or some cruel trifecta slowly eroding slumber, I can guarantee you will not be immune.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, an overwhelming majority of women have symptoms of menopause that affect permanent sleep patterns. If a random sampling of my friends is any indication, it is closer to 100%. And you can’t catch up… ever. There is actually a thing called “Sleep Debt” just so you know the term when it is your turn to stare at the ceiling all night.
Another term, “Sleep Math” is totally made up by me but explains a legitimate process. Each time sleep is interrupted, you begin calculating the amount of sleep possible before the alarm chimes. I usually employ sleep math several times a night so it comes in handy that the numbers only go up to eight and I can add and subtract all on my fingers. You never anticipate kindergarten math will become part of your groggy middle years.
And society is well aware of this plight. All those philosophical plaques in the arts and crafts stores about women and coffee and survival are just hammering home messages about sleep deprivation.
Insomnia is the thief of joy, people. Put that on a plaque.
I look back on my 20’s and wonder why the hell I didn’t just sleep all the time and store up all that shut-eye like some sleep deprivation doomsday prepper. But no, I chose to stay out until 1 a.m. and pop right up and go to work the next day. I bragged about my resiliency and was so haughty.
And naps? Naps were for the weak or toddlers. Toddlers fight their bodies to stay awake and women fight their bodies to stay asleep. And there you have the life-cycle of females. #iamascientist
No one told me that one day I would nap like it was my J-O-B and even then I would be running on fumes. Consider this warning my gift to you and share the wisdom of your elders.
Take it from me, living with regret is soul-sucking. I rue the day I thought I was invincible and sleep was a given. I never envisioned this pale, forgetful 50-year-old with under-eye bags that scoff at concealer.
And something else to chew on… as much as we talk about equality and smashing that glass ceiling, Mother Nature is not on board. One day you will lie next to your husband and the sound of his deep purr of slumber will enrage you. That noise will drive you to levels of fury that render all those Dateline plots completely plausible and forgivable. My husband lives in a world free of hot flashes, midnight visits from vomiting children and tossing and turning as he loudly snores through his alarm.
So, this is my best advice for you. Go to bed. Sleep long and hard and hit the snooze button while you can rest up unencumbered. There is a shelf-life on sleep and the expiration date creeps up on you.
Lest you think my exhaustion and bitterness have completely rotted me to the core, I offer you the following: Remember that sleep brings dreams and dreams fuel passion and passion will smolder even on 4 hours of sleep. All that magic is still in there, but middle age makes you dig a little deeper to unearth it.
And lastly, before you roll your eyes dismissively and say, “Ok, Boomer…” maybe sleep on it and see how you feel.