I wrote a book about what would happen if everyone on earth stopped sleeping.
Every night I sleep with an app on my phone which records my movements and translates them into neat data about my sleeping habits.
I’ve always been fascinated by sleep. I’ve had bouts of insomnia, usually to go along with hugely stressful times, and periods of anxiety and depression. It laid the groundwork for a lifetime of being fascinated by, and appreciative of, sleep.
Being a movie-theatre Film Projectionist for over a decade let me see a variety of sleep cycles, both in myself and in others who worked in the whacky world of a Grindhouse; closing the booth one summer had me on 17:00-01:00 shifts, which wreaked havoc on my sleep schedule. When I took over as Head Projectionist I got to make the schedule for the booth, and set myself up with 10:00-18:00 shifts that better fit with ‘having a normal schedule’.
I watched as coworkers and managers were sick constantly. I saw many become slowly crushed by the job. I’m sure some of it was at least partially due to the abuse they inflicted on what should have been their ally, their treasured companion in life: sleep.
Seeing people close-open (close the threatre at 1 or 2 in the morning, and have to be in to open the theatre the next day at 9 or 10) was totally crazy to me. When people are tired, they get sick more often, are less happy, and, from a business standpoint, cost money in the form of mistakes. In the projection booth, these mistakes could equal big bucks. Scratched prints, dropped prints, mistakes when splicing reels together (in the correct order, please), adverts and trailers put in upside-down and backwards… the list of things that can go wrong in a booth is long. And when you sleep-deprived people, mistakes cost customer satisfaction and money.
We know that sleep deprivation can cause impairment.
My fascination with sleep bled into the career I’ve been working towards my whole life: being an author. It seems inevitable that sleep was going to be the focus of a book at some point. All my past experiences aligned and I got a bolt-from-the-blue idea that set me off on the wildest journey of my life: writing a book about an insomnia apocalypse. “What if the whole world stopped being able to sleep?” I set about crafting a book to explore just what would happen. I wrote it in the style of World War Z, so every chapter could showcase some new element, a new character, a new location. This let me produce a book with many windows into an apocalypse, and effectively illustrate just how badly we need sleep.
Spoiler alert: we need sleep a lot. Like, so, so much.
Here’s where I can share some nifty things about sleep: I have been sleeping with an app on my phone that records movement and translates it into sleep data. For two years, I’ve been tracking my sleep.
I have data that spans the most massive changes in my life yet:
going through a divorce
moving to the other side of the world
publishing my breakout novel, fulfilling a lifelong dream
I feel like my sleep data is personal. It clearly shows the ups and downs of my life.
Also interesting are the periods where I’m on meditation retreats, contrasted to the times when I’m living in town, in ‘regular society’ and not in the peace and quiet of a meditation centre.
By far my favourite data is The Longest Night. To celebrate my book launch, I stayed awake for as long as possible, live on a Twitch stream. I made it 80 hours before I called it due to safety concerns. After those 80 hours, I slept for a whopping 16 hours and 43 minutes.
It was amazing. The days following it are also interesting.
Want to see some neat graphs about all this? Hold onto your butts, here we go. I give you:
Intimate Details of the Sleeping Habits of the Author of the Insomnia Apocalypse
First, everything all at once. Check it.
And here’s each individual graph so you can see the appropriate values:
But wait, there’s context. My life during the past two years has been WILD. Lots of ups and downs; ups from living a beautiful new life, downs from processing the end of a marriage. Here’s the data with a bit of timeline:
My sleep quality has been very closely tied to stress. Moving out on my own for the first time was great; it alleviated the crushing weight of a failing marriage and I slept so much better than I had in ages. The dip in January was me nearly dying of a broken heart.
But hey I’m still here, thanks in no small part to some Epic Meditation. It totally changed my life, and I’m so grateful to have it. It really helped get me through some rough times.
You notice that green line of sleep quality dips as it approaches January of this year. You may know that I’ve been working my whole entire life to become an author, and my first book, Sleep Over, was released on January 16th. The stress leading up to that was enormous, and you can definitely see my sleep affected by it.
The next increase in sleep quality was relief from Sleep Over hitting the shelves, in print, from a bonafide New York publisher. I was so happy to have it behind me. This started off a two-month period of intense meditation retreats to help process this massive life event.
Here’s more recent data in the same detail:
And again with some life events in the timeline:
And again, the separate charts for values:
The most interesting sleep, by far, is this one: The Longest Night, the night after I stayed awake as long as possible (80 hours!) for Sleep Over‘s release. Check it.
Time in bed: 16 hours and 43 minutes baby! Holy WOW. Interestingly, I dipped into The Deep (deep sleep) my usual 5 times. It was so good. No sleep is ever going to top it, not unless something goes drastically wrong haha.
My previous Longest Night (and also one of the BEST ever) was the first night after I arrived in New Zealand, fleeing a life on fire and into the loving arms of so many helpful people.
Sleep is so helpful! When things are hard it just makes life much easier and better if I can get the sleep I need.
Now, some nights in detail, just to show off what I know about my sleep cycle now, after observing it for 2 years.
My ideal night has 4 or 5 dips into deep sleep. Whether I need 4 or 5 depends on how well rested I’ve been leading up to that night. If all is well, I only need 4. But if I’m totally knackered, I need 5, over 8 hours.
This is a recent sleep. I’m super pooped from a new job. As you can see, I have to be up really early, but it’s okay because I was in bed just after 7, leaving me enough time with my head on the pillow to dip into deep sleep those 5 times I need.
Now look at this one where I only need 4 dips and 7 hours:
Fun fact: on deep meditation retreat, I can be totally knackered but I only need 4 dips into deep sleep to feel well rested. And I need far fewer hours with my head on the pillow. The graph above is from an intense day on a 10-day vipassana retreat. It was the hardest I’ve ever focussed and was totally in ‘the zone’. (Absolutely MASSIVE days chockers full of sitting and learning vipassana). 4 dips woo!
Now a typical one from the heart of my month-long retreat:
I needed fully one hour less in bed than normal, and I was waking up naturally between 4 and 5. I was often having a lay-down after lunch to get another hour with my head on the pillow, so some days when I only got 4 I was actually needing 5 (but it was too exciting to stay in bed, not when I could have the meditation hall all to myself haha).
Just to contrast these pretty great sleeps, here are some truly terrible sleeps. The plateau leading up to the first dip means it took ages for me to fall asleep, and the plateau on the tail end means I was super restless coming out of sleep and didn’t want to get up, hoping I’d get another dip into good sleep, but not getting it. This was the night after moving my things into storage and preparing to leave my friends and family. A very disruptive time, and it definitely shows! Only 3 dips into The Deep as I’ve come to think of it.
Here’s another bad one, where I wake up with anxiety twice in the night.
Nearing the end of my post, here’s a 100% quality sleep, from when I was helping do good in the world and feeling generally awesome.
So there you have it, some sleep data. I always love sharing it in the hopes it gets people thinking about their own sleep health.
In conclusion, sleep is really important to me. Its quality is critically linked to what’s happening in life, and how much stress I’m experiencing.
Questions? Comments? Have a gander at this reddit thread where I’ll be interacting to answer and chat!
And if you’re interested in a book about an insomnia apocalypse, Sleep Over is part of a Book Bub promotion this week- the eBook is only $1.99 across all U.S. platforms!
Or if you want to just toss me a gold coin, hit up Patreon.
Thanks for hanging out. Cheers!
P.S. Sleep well ^_^