Tax season is over. The long days and endless weeks are finally at an end. It’s time for a nap.
In my younger days I also ran long stretches with limited sleep. Farming is intense during spring planting and autumn harvesting; college was late night studying or visiting with friends; and now taxes provide me with twelve weeks of unrelenting work each year.
Society idolizes people who run with limited amounts of sleep. It is a badge of honor to pound your mind and body mercilessly and do it with lack of sleep.
As tax season clawed toward the finish line my performance was no longer acceptable. The amount of work I completed was down and concerns over accuracy started to pop up. Nobody can perform at peak while fighting fatigue and lack of sleep. Nobody.
I call these bursts of hyper activity “marathon runs”. Tax season is my current annual marathon run. It appeals to me because I have manic depression and I learned a long time ago autumn is a bad time and springtime is power time. It was a natural fit. The disease doesn’t always cooperate, but I have learned to control it enough to use it to my benefit.
Yet, the risks of long hours without sleep are a real problem. Lack of sleep is a leading cause of transportation accidents. Even if you read the news poorly you have heard stories of airline pilots, ship captains, train conductors and barges in catastrophic disasters due to lack of sleep. Doctors frequently perform surgery in the morning for a reason. Only emergency surgery is performed later in the day.
The Evidence is In
You don’t have to look any further than this blog to see first-hand the effects of sleep deprivation. With tax season over I can finally get some sleep. One eight-hour night of sleep does not make up for all the lost hours over the preceding months.
I am always tired this last week, even more so than when I was working. I get up and then take a morning nap. Once you reach that deep and are that over-tired it has consequences. Slowly my body returns to normal.
In 2011 I published a short piece on a content farm about living on 4 hours of sleep per day. I had convinced myself I was one of those special people who could live on almost no sleep and still function at a high level. While it is true each individual needs a specific amount of sleep—some more, some less—most people require 7 to 9 hours per day. It doesn’t have to come at one time or all at night either. An afternoon nap can be a powerful part of your sleep pattern.
Then there is the delusion. You need look no further than this blog for a prime example of how sleep deprivation affects cognitive thinking. A few weeks back I allowed a guest post which turned out to be a scam. The warning signs of sleep deprivation were in full flower. Still, I trudged on to the tax due date. Now, with tax season over and a few more hours sleep, you would think my mental capacity would quickly return to normal. It’s not that simple.
Friday’s blog post had all the hallmarks of a sleep deprived person struggling to recover from a marathon run. The story was solid and the information valuable, but I wrote a shorter piece with too much profanity. I was puffing up the story. Worse, over the weekend I edited some of the profanity out and tightened the story and noticed multiple glaring grammar and spelling errors. My editing skills were affected more than the writing process itself. I couldn’t even see my own mistakes!
Sleep deprivation allows you to think everything is okay when it is not. “I’m good,” you say when it is painfully apparent you are impaired.
Clients get upset when I refuse to set appointments the week after tax season ends. What they don’t understand is how badly I need rest.
Everybody want me, and only me, because they think I have some magic when it comes to taxes because I write a blog and speak around the country on the subject. Well, I am good at what I do, but no matter how good I am, there is a limit to what one human being can do before serious health consequences arise.
I need sleep and I bet you do too. You are no good to anyone, much less yourself, when you are running on fumes. Peak performance never comes after a marathon run.
But who hasn’t had an all-nighter? Me, for one. As much as I reduce sleep at times, I still don’t engage the legendary all-nighter. Been close a few times.
We all reduce sleep occasionally when we are doing something we really like. The late night party or a good book you can’t put down until 3:30 in the morning are examples of short-term sleep deprivation that works. The fatigue isn’t too bad the next day. It doesn’t take much of a leap to start deceiving yourself you can handle living with less sleep.
Trouble starts as soon as you do. Health.com recently ran an article on the benefits of adequate sleep. Several struck close to home for me. Better memory, longer life, more creativity, less stress and a healthy weight were all connected to appropriate sleep levels. These are important things to me and I bet they are to you too.
Yahoo Beauty recently discussed the same issues as they relate to appearance. Ladies, if you want to look younger, more alive, vibrant, get eight hours of sleep each day! You know this is true. You can point out a sleep deprived waitress from a mile away without knowing anything about the person. It shows on her face. Given enough years of sleep deprivation and you will show additional years of wear and tear on your face too. Is there a better argument for more sleep?
Okay, I understand I am preaching to the choir. I have sleeping issues, admittedly. When I try to sleep sometimes I can’t. It come and goes.
Success is important to me. I enjoy running my tax practice, serving my clients and sharing ideas here on this blog and with audiences wherever they will have me. Successful people sleep.
Contrary to my 2011 article chronicling important people who live/lived with only modest amounts of sleep, successful people sleep. A lot.
Jeff Bezos turned Amazon into the massive company it is while making eight hours of sleep a day a priority. Many business owners feel it is a badge of honor to run and keep running non-stop day in and day out. The relentless drive is all they know about success. It ends poorly. Heart attacks and questionable business decisions blanket business news. A few years back investments banking firms got in trouble when an intern died from lack of sleep working the job without rest or time off. Clue people: that is NOT success; that is torture! Stop torturing yourself.
Back in July of 2015 Ryan Holiday, a writer I admire and enjoy reading, wrote a piece on sleep. It’s short and to the point. I recommend you read it.
Holiday talked about how he found time to read so much and quickly made it clear it wasn’t sitting up all night. He went a step further and said ample sleep is what allows him to be a prolific writer and reader.
You can imagine how this sat with your favorite accountant. My love of reading was front and center. I could read more and enjoy it better if I had a good night’s sleep. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: So it goes.
Secrets to a Good Night of Sleep
My mind races. Ideas are always pouring out of me. It never stops.
Over-the-counter and even prescription sleep medications carry the risk of dependence. Worse, if you are like me, they don’t work well or for an extended period of time. The only way to sleep is to turn off the kaleidoscope of voices demanding to get out.
Melatonin might be the sole exception to the medication rule. This naturally occurring substance is produced by the brain to facilitate sleep. Many people find blissful rest using melatonin. I am not one.
An active mind is not a bad thing. The ability to turn it off is important, however, if you plan on keeping your level of creativity and performance high.
If you haven’t heard before, I’ll briefly say now: stay away from bright lights, TV, computer screens! smartphone screens! (yes, those exclamation points were intentional) and similar activities prior to nap time. You don’t need the phone by the bed. The President is not calling you. And if someone has died and you are not known for performing resurrections, voice mail can handle it. The body will still be there in the morning.
Reading a book can help you relax. But if you are like me and become engrossed in books easily, this can backfire. Regardless, reading is a great way to unwind the body, preparing your mind for slumber.
Meditation is the most powerful tool to encourage sleep. The last half-hour prior to retiring to bed it is a good idea to sit comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. This practice will help clear the mind of racing thoughts. When thoughts try to break in, let them. And then quietly ask them to take a seat to the side where you will deal with them the next day. Return your focus to each breath.
God knows I have put a lot on my plate at times and sometimes others have had a hand in it too. Each night before bed and each morning before starting my day are reserved for quiet meditation. Sometimes I reflect on the previous day or plan out my thoughts. Always return to focus on your breathing.
Thinking about issues important to you or upsetting you are best handled in the quiet contemplation of meditation. Ten minutes should be enough most days. Sometimes, when the world crashes in, you need more time to order your thoughts and prepare for sleep. Take as much time as you need.
We are not gods, people, as much as we sometimes like to think we are. In the three major monotheistic religions of the planet God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. You are not better than God. You need your sleep if you want a long, happy life filled with meaningful activities.
You are only truly awake when you first have adequate, deep, nourishing sleep.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to take a nap.