I’ve written many times about my relationship with sleep. While sleep and dreams and my ability to rest don’t occupy my mind as much as stories and tabletop roleplaying games do, they’re probably third or fourth highest on list. After all, I’ve been dealing with one kind of insomnia or another for over half my life and my experiences with it and relaxation in general have made me highly aware of the different kinds of rest you can get. This makes it easy to direct my time towards what I need in order to maintain high-function in periods of high stress or enduring periods of constant stress, but it also means that I tend to abuse this power at times when my stress levels are lower than my usual state.
For instance, I’ve done a lot of emotional labor for myself recently, pushed myself on a lot of important tasks, and spent a lot of time and energy on creative and life-responsibility endeavors. So while I’m not physically tired, I find myself in need of low-effort, mindless occuptation and entertainment so I can restore my creative and emotional energies. Video games fit this dual need perfectly, and they also have the benefit of not being physically demanding, which is an extra benefit given my morning exercise routine, standing at work, and walking habits. The downside is that my days are so full and my need for mental and emotional rest is so great that I’ve sacrificed sleep to play video games over the weekend (and last night).
Most of the time, maybe even all the time, this is a choice I’m making. I understand my ability to cut back on sleep, so I can make an informed decision on what I need most on any given day. That said, I recognize that I sometimes make the wrong choice, consciously, because my need to feel in control of my life pushes me to deny myself sleep and continue playing whatever game is providing this sense of control. Resource management, real-time strategy, and roleplaying games all give me the feelings of power and control over my life that I frequently find myself lacking in the real world. After all, I’m not staying in my current apartment because I love it, I’m staying because prices are rising all over my city and I won’t be able to afford anything better. I’m not self-isolating and avoiding social situations because I don’t like being around people, I’m doing it because that’s the only way I can protect myself from a pandemic my society seems all too ready to ignore, despite how many people are still dying from it every day and how little we understand the long-term effects of the virus.
I think I better understand how much control I actually have in my life now, after being constantly challenged by the last few years of my life, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept. I’ve spent so long trying to just feel in control of my self and life that it’s difficult to not choose things that might not be the best for me in the long run when they provide a feeling of control in the short-term. Beyond even just the control provided by the video games, being able to consciously choose to stay up late because I know I can get away with it or, at the very worst, take a day off to rest and reset my sleep schedule, is a way of feeling a modicum of control in my life. It isn’t healthy if I do it too frequently, but my experience with managing my stress and using the various types of rest to make up for a lack of one of them means that it is much less negative than it otherwise might be. It goes from being something I know will only hurt me to something I know I can do a few times before it comes back to bite me.
Still, I know I’m making the wrong choice. I need my sleep. It is much more effective, most of the time, than any other kind of rest I can get. And while I will always maintain that there are times when it is a better choice for me, personally, to go without sleep in order to get some other benefit, those times are few and far-between. Especially now, when stress, burnout, and the pandemic have me riding the ragged edge of pure exhaustion more often than not. Sleep is important and I should choose it more frequently than I do, but sometimes it just really feels nice to exercise what control I do have in my life, even if it isn’t the right long-term choice.