I can’t sleep
so why not write about it
I love how I just wrote about letting go of my weekly publishing time and then I’m back with a new piece less than a week later. It felt good to let the creativity flow and not feel like I had to publish it at all, but also have the freedom to do so whenever I want to—even if it’s more often than weekly.
Here’s a piece I wrote throughout the past 24+ hours. I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve been trying to get back to sleep for over an hour and I’m giving up.
I’m a side sleeper, and I have this thing where whichever nostril is lower tends to get clogged with snot. Because of that, I will flip over to my other side to sort of let it drain out. But then it eventually fills up the other side. This goes on and on throughout the night, leaving me feeling groggy the next day. And lately, the next day and the next day since this has been going on for a few in a row now.
For a while, I was using mouth tape, which helped the issue most nights. I learned about it through my friend Jonny Miller in his Nervous System Mastery course. With my nose’s propensity to clog, I thought it was a crazy idea to keep my lips closed all night. But forcing myself to only breathe through my nose helped clear me up, and I slept better. It had the nice side-effect of reducing my snoring, which my wife appreciated.
My recent problem started because I’ve been traveling. I forgot to pack the tape somewhere along the way and subsequently fell out of the habit. Now I’m paying the price.
How the hell did I ever sleep well before I taped my mouth shut each night? Maybe I didn’t?
My relationship to sleep has been fraught for basically my entire adult life. I’ve identified as a night owl for decades. I didn’t live by the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” maxim, but I did think being unconscious for 1/3 of the day felt like a waste of time.
Most of the words I’ve written over the years have been jotted down on my laptop late at night. I used to feel shameful about it. I thought I was doing something wrong. The internet is filled with advice about the perfect morning routine and how it’s the best time to be creative. But then a therapist asked me if I actually thought that was true and I realized that no, creativity doesn’t care where the sun is—or isn’t—in the sky. And so I embraced my late-night tendencies.
I can trace my staying up late back to college. I went to UC Santa Barbara, and within a year or so, I was in a band that would eventually sign a major label record deal. Playing shows at clubs and on the deck of my house in Isla Vista, or staying up all night trying to figure out how to build our website, all led to my waking hours shifting later and later, throwing my circadian rhythm totally out of whack. I was staying awake fueled by caffeine—from soda, not coffee because coffee tastes like dirt water, but that’s a topic for another piece—and artificial lights from the stage or my computer.
Hmm, I think it’s time to actually get out of bed and face the day now. Ugh. I’ll be back later.
I tried to take a nap about an hour ago. It was going fine, but then about 15 minutes into it, my phone rang. It was a periodontist I was referred to after doing my ten-year x-rays at the dentist last month where they found this weird dent thing (?) on the top part of one of my teeth underneath my gums. It sounds bad, but my dentist said I could probably ignore it until it hurts or breaks (yikes!) and then get an implant. Anyway, I answered the call in my just-woke-up-from-a-nap stupor and somehow managed to tell them I’m not interested and now I’m wondering if they think that I thought they were a telemarketer trying to sell me something. Eh, whatever. I’m off the hook until my tooth falls off, which will almost certainly happen when I’m trying to sleep.
Where was I?
When I was in the band, I developed the unhealthy habit of staying up too late. Our shows would often end well past midnight. And when we were on tour in a van, I’d usually drive after the show to our next tour stop where we’d get a hotel—or, let’s be honest, a motel—and I’d crash until a couple of hours before showtime. It was half my lifetime ago, when I was a young buck in my mid-twenties, and it didn’t phase me much.
Fast-forward a few years, I had moved on from the music industry and was playing poker for a living. As you could guess, this career choice didn’t help matters. Sure, there are often poker games going on in the mornings, but they’re usually filled with well-rested older clientele who are a bit more conservative—not politically, necessarily, although sometimes that too—and therefore less inclined to recklessly gamble away their hard-earned money. Back then, I’d often show up at the casino over the hill from Santa Barbara at 9 or 10 pm and play throughout the night. In other words, I was awake and sharp while others were trying not to pass out—either from fatigue or having too much to drink. It gave me a lucrative edge over my competition.
My penchant for late nights continued on, even when I turned 30 and “grew up and got a real job” as an insurance underwriter at State Farm. My ex-wife had worked for a State Farm agent for many years in Santa Barbara. We decided to move up to Santa Rosa to be closer to our families where she worked for a different agent and he hooked me up with a referral to the company’s regional operations center just south of us in Rohnert Park.
If I recall correctly, my workday started at 7:30 in the morning. (Side note: Does sleep deprivation affect memory? Probably!!). A year or so into the job, I took classes at Sonoma State a couple of miles down the road since the company offered tuition reimbursement, but I still had to put in my full-time hours at the office. That meant I’d either take early 7 am classes and make up the time at the end of the day, or I’d take these once-per-week marathon 7-10 pm classes they offered.
I remember sitting in one of those night classes on the first day of the semester in my work slacks and dress shoes. I made small talk with the woman sitting next to me and she proceeded to tell me how tired she was because she had her sorority rush and it was “soooooo stressful” and they were up “suuuuuper late” the night before. I wanted to snap back with something like, “Excuse me? Do you think I dress like this for fun? I just worked eight hours, you entitled little brat!” But instead, I just nodded and said something like, “Yeah, that sounds rough.”
Alright, it’s 1:13 pm and my Foster authoring circle session is about to end. Let’s continue this later on (but hopefully not too late).
I’m feeling tired. This is a good sign since I’ve been trying to get to bed around 10 pm lately—a huge improvement from my typical 1 am—or sometimes even later—in the not-so-distant past. We’ve successfully reduced my daughter’s medication needs and moved her nighttime meds up to 8 pm, eliminating the need to sneak into her room and push them through her feeding tube at midnight now.
Focusing on my sleep is the next logical step in my journey to level up my overall health and transform from a skinny fat guy to a slender tone guy. I’ve been consistently working out since mid-August. I’m a read-the-nutrition-label guy now and I’ve improved my diet considerably. As a result, I’m feeling and looking much stronger than I ever have before.
Another reason for the sleep adjustment is to open up more spaciousness in my mornings. Before, I’d typically have to set an alarm and I’d be scrambling to get ready in time to be on with my daughter so my wife could leave the house to exercise. Meanwhile, she had been awake for hours already. With more time on my hands in the mornings, I’ll be able to do things like set aside time to meditate, be present with my family, and not just slap a hat on my head every day because I don’t have time to shower.
Part of me worries that I have it easy right now because of the recent time change and the sun setting around 5 pm. Will I still be able to get to bed at 10 pm when it gets dark at almost 9 pm in the summer? We’ll see! For now, I’m just hoping tonight goes well.
Feeling much better this morning!
The me of last year would find that sentence to be absolute crazy talk this early in the morning. He’d be sound asleep for another hour, at least—and more on weekends to catch up on sleep.
But I’m New and Improved Lyle now. The Lyle who makes positive changes and sticks with them. The Lyle who has more energy and strength and lots more healthy years to live.
No matter how well these lifestyle improvements go, I promise you one thing: I won’t ever write a post about my perfect morning routine.
Heads up: I’m planning on posting a piece on Saturday, December 16th as part of a series on the theme of “Recovery” from a group of men who all write on Substack. You may recall my piece from our previous series on “Fatherhood” in September. Be on the lookout for pieces from, , , , , and yours truly (in that order) starting on Monday, December 11th.
If you enjoyed this piece, could you please let me know by giving the heart button a tap? It’ll help me sleep better (maybe).