Up All Night to Get Happy?

Many  of us are living lives that are so full to the brim with to do lists, relationships, emotions and activities that we become lost in a cycle of work and play that leaves no room for rest. With so much available 24/7 via the internet the world is never truly asleep and neither are we. But what exactly is keeping us up into the early hours even after we’ve gone past the point of exhaustion and long after being awake has stopped being fun?

Burning the midnight Oil

Done that report yet? Got the word count on that essay? Finished cleaning the kitchen?  Replied to those emails from the American office? The drive to achieve and the expectations of others can mean that we start to feel like we’re on a 24/7 treadmill and if we step off it disaster is sure to strike. We feel like we never manage to do enough during the day and so we carry on into the night because it MUST be done or because we haven’t EARNED our rest yet, even if our body and mind needs it. If we sleep we fail-snooze you lose right? Sleep is the cousin of death and a distraction of the weak-who needs it?

Trick or treat??

Most parents reading this will probably be familiar with the joyful excitement children display when they get to stay up late past their usual bedtime. Just staying up later than normal seems to be a party in itself and a special treat. As adults we have no such rules and can go to bed whenever we like-so we do! Box set binging and midnight feasting our way into the early hours. We deserve it right? We’ve worked hard all day and tomorrow will just be the same old same old so why not find some pleasure where can. But is it a false (sleep) economy?

‘’... a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry looked at data from 91,105 middle-aged people and found that those with disrupted sleep patterns were more likely to have depression or bipolar disorder. The worst affected were described by one of the authors of the paper, Professor Daniel Smith at the University of Glasgow, as those with “very poor sleep hygiene – people on their mobile phones at midnight checking Facebook or getting up to make a cup of tea in the middle of the night”. www.theguardian.com

It may feel like downtime but is it truly restful when being up all night becomes either automatic and or compulsive? The fast flowing current of life may slow right down at night but as long as we’re awake it’s still running. Keeping ourselves going until we crash out on the sofa may end with us being asleep but can we really call that rest?

Delaying the inevitable

Sometimes it’s fear that keeps us from sleeping. Anxiety and worry about what will happen tomorrow or guilt and regret about what happened today can stop the mind from switching off. It might not be going to sleep that we’re afraid of but waking up and having to face tomorrow, having to do it all again when we haven’t yet recovered from having to do it today. We keep ourselves busy to delay the inevitability of tomorrow or sometimes to desperately try and make good on the disappointments of today.

The Lonely Hour

Sometimes it’s the person we share our bed with that we are trying to avoid. Many an agonising hour is spent late at night debating whether to stay in unsatisfactory relationships. So much so that Law firms receive a huge spike in online enquiries about divorce in the small hours, dubbing it ‘Divorce Hour’-

"Divorce hour" - the busiest time for online enquiries - is between 12.30 and 1am, with 15 per cent of overnight queries coming during this window, according to one set of figures. Figures suggest couples are increasingly likely to decide they want to split during the small hours of the morning.’’ www.telegraph.co.uk

And if we’re not looking into how to end a relationship we might be trying to forge new ones in social media groups, forums or dating sites.

Up & Uppers*

Staying up into the early hours to make that deadline or finish that essay may make us feel like we need more than just willpower to keep going. Sugar, caffeine, carbs or amphetamines may become a regular part of our night time routine as we continue to push ourselves past a safe and healthy limit. The cost to our health, the quality of our work and our relationships becomes high.

 ‘’sleep disruption — which affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation. In this way, insomnia may amplify the effects of psychiatric disorders, and vice versa.’’- www.health.harvard.edu

‘’After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. You'll start to feel down, and may fall asleep during the day. Your risk of injury and accidents at home, work and on the road also increases. If it continues, lack of sleep can affect your overall health and make you prone to serious medical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.’’ NHS.co.uk

Sleep as Self care

Mental illness can be as physically exhausting as it is mentally but often because the illness may have slowed us down somewhat in life it can feel like sleep and rest is the last thing we need or deserve. But sleep is a powerful way to help ourselves during mental struggle. Sometimes choosing to lie down, close our eye s and be still can be the safest choice when we feel like we’re spiralling out of control.

The Committee of Sleep

It can be hard to trust that going to sleep will help us feel better when we’re used to staying awake to cheer ourselves up, forget our troubles, or get more done. But as quoted above this tactic is often counterproductive and in the end we face being derailed by illness and burnout. In ‘The Committee of Sleep’ by Deidre Barrett Ph.D., sleep is discussed as being a vital tool for inspiration and success and cites the following quote-

‘’It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it’’. John Steinbeck

A refreshed mind and body enables us to be more resilient, productive and happy then any amount of late night grafting or early morning indulgence. And in the twilight hours of life I think the Committee of Sleep makes far better decisions then we ever could, if we’d only allow it to get on with the job.

*upper- noun, informal, plural noun: uppers-a stimulating drug, especially amphetamine.


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