The Price of Too Little Sleep

One of the worst parts about not sleeping enough over a long period of time is how divorced from reality that level of exhaustion can make you feel. Going without any sleep can rapidly turn bad, making you more susceptible to getting sick or even causing you to hallucinate if you go long enough without just collapsing. Definitely not going to deny how awful all that can be or imply that just being chronically short on sleep is worse than getting zero sleep. I think it’s just a different kind of hell, though. One that varies based on how much sleep you’re missing out on, as compared to what you need to feel functional.

For instance, I tend to sleep six-to-eight hours a night. Some nights I go over eight, but rarely do I ever go past nine hours. Even on the days I’ve slept in very late, it’s usually still only a maximum of eight to nine hours because I stayed up very late instead of sleeping for a long time. Prior to college, and during some parts of college, I slept for more than nine or ten hours, but even then it was rare. I never really hit the point of “need to sleep a lot” that most people seem to hit as a teenager, but that’s probably more of a result of the insomnia I developed at thirteen than me being a person who needs less sleep than average. Even now, I suspect I’d be much better off with seven or eight hours of sleep a night, but I struggle to get sleep if I feel well-rested and rarely do I have days that are properly draining without being likely to make me feel overwrought.

Over the past week, with the exception of last night, I slept an average of four hours a night. The first couple days of this were more or less fine. I got some sleep and didn’t need to be super engaged with what I was doing, so I was able to make do without an issue. I was a little groggy each morning (or early afternoon, for the day that started this whole unfortunate sleepless streak), but I got through it fine. I tried to fix my sleep schedule each night, but didn’t even feel tired enough to need to go to sleep at my normal time. Then the work-week started, I was getting up at 7, and each day was a progressively worse struggle. By Friday, I’d last track of what day it was (needed to check my phone to be certain) and I was so exhausted that I was almost dissociating.

There’s a lot you can do when you’re tired to counter the symptoms. Most of exhaustion at that point, for me anyway, is just struggling to focus and pay attention to my surroundings. I can buckle down and enjoy a short period of relatively normalcy if I think there’s something I need to do, but it winds up just making me feel more and more disconnected after each time I’ve tried to focus. So, on a work day, when I have to step up for a coworker who bailed on the demo he was supposed to do, I wound up needing to keep focused and on-point for so long that by the time I got home and could finally unclench, I had a hard time doing anything other than just drifting through the rest of day, detached from reality and all sense of time. In fact, it would have been much worse if I hadn’t been as angry as I was about being left in the lurch by my coworker.

Now, I finally feel like I’m reattached to reality. I can sense the passage of time and I have peripheral awareness again. I’m still super exhausted and frustrated at how little I was able to do for two days in a row (last Thursday wasn’t as bad as last Friday, but it was almost as bad) because one night of decent sleep isn’t enough to get me back to full-function again. I’ll need at least one more of those, maybe two. Or one more and a week of not terrible sleep followed by another pair of decent sleep, since I doubt I’ll be able to go to bed early enough to get eight hours of sleep prior to work on Monday (I’m writing this on a Saturday). Regardless, I’m looking forward to not feeling terrible again and I sincerely hope I never have another week of messed up nights in a row again. I’d rather just go without sleep. At least then I’ll eventually get so tired that I’ll be able to just fall asleep at any time rather than slowly losing my grip on reality.

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