Why Sleeping Beauty Is On To Something
November 9, 2021
At least once a week, somebody says to us:
“You get so much done – you must never sleep!” or
“Seriously, do you ever sleep?” or
“You can’t possibly sleep more than 4 hours a night!”
They always mean it enthusiastically and kindly.
Despite the horrid little voice in our heads that constantly taunts us for being lazy and unproductive (thanks, lifelong perfectionist tendencies and graduate school!), when we look at our work and output, we can objectively see that we’re actually really prolific. So far this year, we’ve taught 4 brand-new courses, presented a couple dozen other talks or events, written 30 ish poems, blogged weekly, etc.
But the thing is, part of the reason we can do all this stuff is because we do not mess around with sleep deprivation. We’re very, very bad at it, and the results are not cute on us. So we protect our sleep with what probably looks like a ridiculous amount of ferocity.
We are firmly Team Sleeping Beauty.
Sara aims for 8 hours a night and usually manages it.
Brittany averages around 9.5… for real.
Honestly, it feels kind of vulnerable and embarrassing for us to admit this!
American culture has made a virtue of sleep deprivation. The need for sleep is treated like a weakness. A moral shortcoming. As Emily and Amelia Nagoski write in their book Burnout, “We’ve made a virtue of being exhausted, of denying ourselves rest.”
Meanwhile, actively trying to get a lot (or even the recommended 7+ hours) of sleep can feel… lazy. Slovenly. Selfish.
It’s so easy to feel guilty for sleeping… maybe because when you’re asleep, you’re not doing anything for anyone else. After all, the (influential but now thankfully largely debunked) psychologist Bruno Bettelheim argued that the princess in Sleeping Beauty was essentially selfishly avoiding her responsibilities by sleeping (no, we’re not making this up.)
Sleep is taking the time you need to let your body rest and repair itself and integrate all the stuff it figured out how to do during the day. Which is really, really necessary, but also doesn’t immediately do anything to take care of anyone besides yourself.
But the thing is – sleep deprivation is literally a form of torture. Sleep deprivation is comparable to the effects of being drunk, can cause or worsen anxiety and depression, and can generally wreck havoc on your body, brain, and emotions.
Being small-business owners (or, you know, a human in 2021) is challenging enough. We have no intention of playing on a harder mode than we already have to.
Of course, there are going to be times when you don’t have a choice in the matter. You have an infant? You’re probably not gonna be getting 8 hours. You have to work 2+ jobs while being in school, too? It might not be in the cards for a while. Insomnia? Ugh. The worst.
But the thing is – extreme sleep deprivation is not sustainable long-term.
Real talk. When Sara was in her early 20s, she went through a phase where she was averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night.
After about 6 months of this, two-thirds of her hair fell out.
It was terrifying. Doctors were consulted, and many tests were run. The diagnoses: stress and sleep-deprivation.
Brittany wound up with actual mono from stress – her body was like “oh, don’t want to take the time to sleep? Here, we will force you to sleep ALL DAY. Have fun with that.”
So we had to rethink this whole sleep thing. And Sleeping Beauty really helped.
Sleeping Beauty is often presented as an embarrassing icon of feminine passivity – the princess who waits for a man to rescue her. We tell young girls: “you don’t want to be like Sleeping Beauty.”
But maybe Sleeping Beauty was a little more rebellious than we’ve been led to believe. Maybe taking the sleep you need isn’t a curse – maybe it’s a necessity, a right that is too often denied. Maybe this princess, overwhelmed with stress, made a choice to buck her predetermined social role and escape into the land of dreams, a place where her ideas could take shape, where her mind could be free.
Maybe it was exactly what she needed.