I wasn’t used to working in a hospital.
Hospitals are a business that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I needed to address paying off some bills and had found a way to do it. In addition to my full time job, I worked as a social worker in a hospital substance abuse treatment program, filling in a shift here and there. On occasion, after a long day at my full time gig and 8 hours at the hospital, a supervisor would relate that so-and-so couldn’t make it in and would I be willing to work another 8 hours. It was a heavily loaded question. If I said yes, I knew that I would be flirting with exhaustion. If I said no, I would lose an opportunity to make more money, assure that co-workers wouldn’t have to work short handed and I would please the boss. I usually said yes.
When it comes to working sleep deprived there are few better places to see it in action better than in a hospital. Not sleeping goes hand in hand with being a physician. Hospital nursing too.
I worked once with a security guard who worked full time by day and provided volunteer emergency community services by night. He prided himself on his alert vigilance. He had learned a thing or two about going without sleep as a US Army special services operative. His ability to keep one eye open looked after the security of many.
Being hyper-busy continues to give many men pride. The go to answer to the question “how have you been,” is “busy, busy, busy.” Not getting enough sleep is common when busy. Not sleeping gives a day more room to be busy in.
When there is time to sleep, sometimes it can be hard to turn off that part of the brain that doesn’t want to.
Sleep disorders are epidemic, but it may be worse than we usually recognize. Natural sleep rhythms involve two separate prolonged periods of sleep within a 24 hour period. Who does that?! The electric light usually gets the blame for messing with our sleep, but I wonder if it goes back further than that, much further.
I think words might be to blame. Before symbolic communication there was probably saber tooth tiger watch sleep shifts, but no staying up late reading the scrolls by torch light.
Probably the most neglected of the good sleep hygiene habits are avoidance of light emitting screens close to bed time. Many use bright screens to hypnotize themselves into slumber. Such a strategy can work, but often generates too little sleep too late.
There is a good deal of evidence that the brain can do some of its best creative work while asleep. In a mainstream culture that considers sleep to be a waste of time, the creative power of the lights that stay on in a darkened brain can go unacknowledged and under utilized.
It is interesting to contemplate the philosophical differences between a life devoted to getting things done, to a life devoted to waking up to a realization that everything is already done. The “get’er done” school suggests, that to live well, a man must set goals and obtain them. There is so much to do and so little time. The old school suggests that you need to do a little work to survive, but all of the big stuff is already done. Life does not need you to make it more beautiful, it is already so beautiful that it is hard to take it. In this way of thinking men will continue to perceive many dragons in need of slaying and taming and we will endeavor to do so. There will be more than enough time to get a fair share of drama and comedy.
I think it would be difficult to campaign for a ban on words. A national $15 minimum wage standard will provide challenge enough. What about a standard split shift work day. It would take some fancy coordination to support every citizen to get their ZZZZZZ’s. Maybe the revolution could start on Wall Street. New York could become the City that always respects sleep. The best response to How’s it going?” would become, “ I’m sleeping like a baby.” The Grande warm milk would become the National beverage. Statues erected to heroes, would more and more show them in response with eyes wide closed.
Nowadays, for many men the sweet spot of their lifestyles is that split second that occurs between being awake and falling asleep from exhaustion. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, drug addiction, worry about where the rent money is going to come from, that moment is golden. Talk about life being too short.
It could be that the best use men can put to words is contemplative conversation. The kind of conversation that leaves you feeling dreamy. If you are up late reading this post on a screen, it might just help prepare you for such conversations. What you doing now probably isn’t the best way to go sleep though. Come on shut it off.
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