Sleep debt kills your creativity and motivation

Sleep is a very important activity that all of us has to participate in. A good night sleep contributes to your overall well-being, allow you to function at your best and keep your mood stable.

However, our modern lifestyle with all the digital devices we have, all those radio waves passing through us every second, and long working hours ensured that we don’t participate in that activity fully. By that, I mean we don’t sleep the maximum hours each of us actually need.

For most of us living in a modern city and have a demanding day job means that we have to wake up early but sleep late. And that’s not to say all your wakeful hours are spent at work. But rather, there’s 101 things for us to take care of in life, ranging from having a simple dinner with family to settling the bills to getting your kids ready for bed. So by the time you actually gone to bed, it’s probably past midnight. Before you know it, your alarm clock goes off and you looked at it, you realised it’s only 5 or 6am. It’s time to wake up.

In my case, I tend to sleep only after 12am. It’s not because I want to sleep that late but rather if I turned in any earlier, I would have tossed and turned in my bed until I get very frustrated and couldn’t sleep or simply talk to myself until I do sleep. End up, I still sleep after 12am. So why do I force myself into bed so early and suffer?

So, taking into account I only enter sleep 15 to 30 minutes after I lay in bed, I typically get only 5 hours, max 6 hours, of sleep every day. That means I am one of the 62% Singaporeans who are sleep deprived because I have to wake up by 6.50am. We as a nation rank second in the world when it comes to being sleep deprived. Not a good statistic, mind you.

I’m only functioning everyday because of my caffeine intake these days. I suspect it will soon no longer work because caffeine has this diminishing return effect the longer you’re consume it. Your body simply developed a tolerance for it.

With this constant sleep debt everyday, don’t be surprise if it dampened your mood. I can feel like I’m about to lose control of my emotions again. Furthermore, it’s affecting my creativity in really subtle ways. Associations between two different ideas becomes harder to create. After all, the best ideas are usually at the intersection of different fields or topic.

Then the mind also stops picking up on subtle changes in the environment as quickly. Understanding of ideas and concepts mentioned by people during conversation and meetings also suffer in terms of speed.

And productivity is definitely out of the window.

Last but not least, the motivation to do anything isn’t there anymore. Not even with coffee. An example would be, it took me two hours just to finish coding a piece of function at work when it could have taken me half an hour or less under normal circumstances.

The good thing is at least now I saw it happening and can attempt to remedy the situation. Should always prioritise sleep over any other activity that isn’t important. There is always another time to do that activity.

Even light exercise helps

The word exercise can strike fear in some people. They are reminded of hard work and pain. Exercises can also be a difficult thing to put in one’s schedule when he or she is already having to deal what life throws at them.

For me, I hate exercise because I’m a very lazy person.

However, the constant comments by people I’ve met about how much fatter I’ve grown have somewhat affected how I feel about myself. Hell, even I feel like I’m carrying around a big lump of fats. And just last month, I wrote about how neglecting your body also affects your life in general. I continue to feel the side effect of not “moving” enough.

So all that spurred me to reset my exercise schedule on Monday.

Now, maybe this is premature but I thought it’s a good time to share how I felt after just going for three runs around my neighbourhood over the week. And the best part was the runs weren’t even very intensive. They were slow jogs where I took 20 minutes or so to cover approximately three kilometres each time.

The first day of my run didn’t change much. It was like any other day considering I ran once per week in the past and relied on my daily steps count to maintain the illusion of being active.

But by the end of second run, I could already feel it changing my body. It was like it has received a boosting dose of energy, allowing me to direct my attention at my tasks better. It also made me more attentive. Combine with my intentional caffeine intake as of late, I managed to become more productive.

And by the end of the third run, I’m definitely feeling happier than normal, which ultimately showed on the outside. And mind you, my overall mood typically is on the lower end of the spectrum compared to most people. So you would tend to see me looking like I’m depressed when I’m not.

To some people, this kind of exercise may not seem much. Maybe it’s their goal to run a marathon once every few months. Or maybe they love high-intensity exercises that pushes their heart rate into the 200 beats per minute range. Or maybe they love to climb mountains every year. Or just maybe they love to do power lifting.

However, one should always not let another person’s opinion about how much exercise you need determine what you do. Not everyone loves the idea of running long distance. For me, I do love a jog or walk. If going for Zumba three times a week is your thing to stay healthy, then do Zumba three times a week. If you like to do resistance weight training, then do resistance weight training.

The only lesson to remember here is, do not ever let your body slip into the situation where it doesn’t move as much as it needs. Even a thirty minute speed walk around your block or neighbourhood after a meal every day is better than nothing. Because the side effects of a sedentary lifestyle are never good to have. Lethargy, lower stress tolerance, and poor productivity are some of the side effects. Ultimately, your life is yours to decide how to live it. Make the right choices.

When you neglect your body, everything else suffers

The market moves very fast because of technology. It has given people access to things almost instantly. In the past, they had to wait for days if not weeks before getting their hands on it.

Because of that, as a creator, you find yourself working almost non-stop just so that you don’t get drown out by the market.

Or maybe that isn’t even the real reason or excuse. It could be the fact that you are just lazy and couldn’t be bother.

In either case, the one thing that gets neglected is the body. You eat junk food because it’s cheaper and faster to get. You don’t exercise because it requires a lot of willpower for you to get out of that chair, couch or bed.

Over time, the body becomes weaker, prone to sickness and pains. Not only that, it gains more weight. With more fats, the body becomes inflamed. Before long, your body is fighting off infections and inflammation. And that affects your brain and mental health. You get depressed easily. You can’t tolerate work and life-related stresses well anymore. Tiredness and sleepiness also become very common.

And making things even worse is age. By the time you get to your thirties, your metabolism drops even more, compounding the weight problem. And failure to take care of your body leads to even more problems.

I know because I’m dealing with them now.

My lack of physical activities the past few months (especially ever since I turned 29) has given me a ton of allergies. My tummy and overall body size have become rounder and bigger. I get tired more easily. My body aches and hurts like there’s no end because of the amount of time I spend in front of a computer or a digital device. And it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

With those issues, I find myself sometimes unable to concentrate on my tasks, lacking excitement in what I do and I just want to sleep more. Now even my fiction writing also grind somewhat into a halt because my brain just isn’t able to work efficiently.

And I know now it’s not the holiday season that’s making me so lazy. Being overweight and lacking physical activity is what make me lazy and sick more often. It’s a vicious cycle really.

So what I have to do is exercise more. Get out more.

And it’s important to set goals that are more sustainable.

So my goal won’t be about losing certain amount of weight by certain time. And I know that alone isn’t sustainable for me because I tried. My goal now is that I want to feel better about myself in terms of energy level and overall health so that I can do my best work.

Now you see, don’t ever neglect your body. Treat it well and treat it right. In turn, it will treat you good.

P.S. I’m actually using the lump that is my tummy to prop up the laptop I’m using to write while I’m lying down on my bed because my back, especially the neck, is hurting. It’s embarrassing really.

Living with hyperhidrosis is lonely and sad

Just imagine. The weather is cool and you are in the comfort of your home or a familiar place, either by yourself, with your friends or family. You aren’t nervous or anxious.

Yet, you are seemingly sweating from places on your body like your hands or your feet. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Because of that, you grow self-conscious. You find yourself not willing to touch someone just because your hands just feel damp and sticky most if not all the time. You are afraid of people giving you that questioning look. So you don’t shake hands. Under certain situation, your hands are dripping.

And anything you touch with your hands, you leave behind a trail of sweat droplets. If you don’t wipe them away in time, when those droplets dry up, they leave behind white and yellow stain. Writing on paper causes the ink to smudge, paper become wet, soaking through. And whatever you grip, you feel like there are times it’s slipping away.

But that’s not it.

Your feet sweat just as badly as well. After a long day of wearing covered shoes, your feet stinks from all that sweating. And when you walk bare feet, you leave behind a trail of footprints. If someone else were to walk the same path as you, they will wonder why is the floor so sticky. Sometimes, because your feet are so wet, you feel like you could slip and fall.

A quick google reveal the name of this condition: Hyperhidrosis. So you wonder why it has happen to you. What have you done wrong to deserve this?

Well, it’s not your fault. The sad reality is that you won. You won the genetic lottery that causes the nerves that control sweating to be hyperactive. To those system, it’s like you’re constantly overheating.

Here’s the kicker.

If you are overweight in anyway, then, your body will feel like it’s overheating even more because it has to carry around those lumps of fats in your body when you do move physically. So now, you are sweating all over, instead of just limited to your hands and feet for the wrong reason.

It won’t be so bad if there’s a cure for it.

But because hyperhidrosis isn’t a life threatening condition, the medical industry didn’t spend too much resources on finding the cure to it. There are of course treatments available but they aren’t ideal or foolproof.

One could try prescription-grade anti-perspirant but it doesn’t really work well on the palms or feet because of the thickness of skin in those areas and the amount of sweat glands. The use of iontophoresis is time-consuming and expensive and may not even give you the best result. Botox injection is effective but painful, time-consuming and expensive. Oral medication comes with excessive side-effect that doesn’t improve your quality of life. You are simply trading sweating for dry mouth, kidney issues, etc. The final and more drastic treatment is the Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy. It is a surgical option that comes with the risk of compensatory sweating and may stop your body from sweating properly from the chest and up. As with any surgery, there are other risks involve.

This is why I feel miserable at times. The excessive sweating prevents me from living the kind of life that I desire. Medical treatments will tie me down financially, limiting my options. I mean who doesn’t want the autonomy associated with zero debt. You are free to do whatever you want for as long as you got enough money in your bank. Without treatment, well, life sucks too. A five minutes walk will leave me drenched in sweat. I dare not enter into any relationship because of the condition. If anyone were to hug me, their body heat will cause me to feel like I’m heating up and I will sweat excessively. Meeting new people make me nervous and I sweat even more.┬áIf anyone were to hold my hands, they will probably recoil from those clammy, wet hands.

So…It’s a lonely and sad life.

Smartphone doesn’t mean available 24/7

Since the release of the smartphone, we have all become more interconnected over the internet. It has definitely improve our lives in general by allowing us to access content from wherever we are and do the things previously we need a computer for. The side effect of that is it has also given rise to the expectation that all of us should be readily contactable even in the wee hours of the night.

There are stories I heard from my friends and read about online where some bosses would wake up as early as 4am to start sending work-related emails and messages to their subordinates and expect them to reply within minutes. Failure to do so would mean certain kind of penalty. Maybe you are pass over for promotion. Maybe you won’t get as much bonus as your colleagues who are more active.

As a software engineer, I’m not spared from that kind of expectation. There is this unspoken rule where I have to be available on weekends and late nights to respond to issues the customer faced. And I’m not saying all software engineers face this issue. Some get to work in a very chill culture where they can focus on just development work. So much so, I’m envious. Then there are those who work on projects or products that are available 24/7 will have to be ready to troubleshoot issues 24/7 too. Think engineers working at Netflix, Amazon Web Service, etc. So in a way, you are no different from doctors and nurses working in an ER.

Now, depending on your personality and tolerance, you may find yourself stressed out just by the very idea of anticipating receiving messages late in the night. I know I will. And for those who can handle such a culture will inevitably burn out when they have to be on edge or standby for long period of time. So you can see how, the requirement to be constantly online and available is just bad for your mental health.

Therefore, it’s very important to set boundaries if you don’t want to fall sick. Different people require different amount of rest time. Some people are also just better at compartmentalisation while some are not. Then there are highly-sensitive people to consider since they may not operate very well under high-stress, suffered from reduced rest and have tons of things to do, especially if they haven’t develop their own proven system for stress management and reduction.

For a start, you have to be assertive. You have to be ready to set expectations when it comes to your rest time, play time and work time. If you keep quiet, your bosses, family and friends would expect you to reply as soon as you receive their messages.

In the past, I would just keep quiet and be ready to respond to any messages received about work issues. But it always stress me out and tend to ruin my day. And bad mood spreads very fast especially when you are out with friends. These days, it’s different. I realised I could no longer keep quiet. So now, my team lead knows I need more rest and my body is ultra sensitive to certain allergens, and can fall sick easily. Thus, I don’t get that much work-related messages from him. Of course, it’s important that you are empathic here. Your colleagues are also humans and they need their rest too. And the company hire you to do a job and be professional. So they would expect business problems to be solved on time. So you have to compromise sometimes and do the work when required.

And it’s obvious that you can’t quit or leave work-related WhatsApp chat groups unless you have no intention of keeping your job. So what you can do for the sake of your mental health is to mute those groups. This way, you still can continue to use your phone for other purpose without seeing those work messages until the time you should.

But then, why should you stay on your phone for such a long time?

If muting chat groups ain’t enough and find that you are still susceptible to receiving calls from work, you can also activate your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” mode where calls, messages, notifications will all be silenced if not rejected. The latest iOS 12 release come with Screen Time feature that you can use it to limit your access to certain apps too. So in this case, you can block all the communication apps.

For me, I schedule “Do Not Disturb” to be active from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. Having an internet-connected smartphone doesn’t mean you have to be online 24/7. Your situation probably is different. So you have to schedule the “Do not disturb” mode according to your needs. But the idea is you get to switch off from work when you are not working. That way you can focus on doing the things that you should be doing at home.

If your bosses have boundary problems and make a big fuss about you blocking their calls late at night, then maybe you should evaluate whether your happiness and health is more important than the job.