Looking back, I realize I thought I was doing well, but in fact, I wasn’t.
I’m a sleep medicine dentist, so it’s my job to screen for the signs of poor sleep quality. When I engage my male patients in a conversation about their sleep quality, they tend to wear it as a badge of honor; brushing off sleep proves total dedication to the job at hand.
Here in the Silicon Valley, my patients are some of the most ambitious and driven people there are in the world. They are entrepreneurs, scientists, aeronautical engineers, CEOs, and professors.
They make sacrifices so they can make a difference in the world. They push themselves hard. They stay up late to get the work done.
We men are especially guilty of taking our “no pain, no gain” culture a little too far—especially when it comes to sleep.
I count myself in this “sleep denial.” As a father of three daughters, I used to take pride in being a light sleeper who was awake at the drop of a hat or with the click of the front door at 3 am, signaling to me that one of my girls had come home past curfew. I felt like a more protective head of the household, but the truth was, I wasn’t in deep stage sleep if I could wake so easily. My sleep was suffering, and so was I.
But sleep isn’t a luxury or a nice-to-have; it’s the foundation of how we spend our waking hours.
Quality sleep is what lets us be the kind, emotionally available, and loving partners, fathers, and friends we all want to be.
Whether you’re a father supporting your family, an entrepreneur hustling to get your business going, or just someone in pursuit of being the best version of yourself, you can’t afford to ignore your sleep quality.
But I’m not talking about eight hours. I’m talking about the quality of your sleep. Sleeping eight hours doesn’t do us much good when those hours are spent tossing and turning, snoring, or grinding our teeth.
As someone who was suffering from moderate sleep apnea, I was getting “enough” sleep, but I wasn’t sleeping well. It wasn’t until I got treatment that I realized what I was missing.
Looking back, I realize I thought I was doing well, but in fact, I wasn’t. I wasn’t as patient as I could have been with my family. I couldn’t always be emotionally available to my wife when she needed me.
I used to be a night owl. I used to wake up with a sore neck and ignore it as I rushed off to work. I brushed it off when my daughters teased me for my snoring. But I’ll never be so naive again.
If I’ve learned anything from treating my own sleep apnea, as well as my patients’ sleep disorders, it’s that sleep is the most important job we have.
So, the one question I implore you to ask—how well are you sleeping? Go beyond, “did I get eight hours?” and ask yourself if your neck hurts, your mouth is dry, you’re grinding your teeth, or you’re not feeling refreshed when you wake up.
Check in with your bed partner to see if you snore (or, if you sleep alone, a simple app can help you find out).
Get the help you need from a doctor to get quality sleep. Ask your dentist to screen you for sleep-disordered breathing; as I’ve learned, sleep apnea is just part of the spectrum of sleep quality issues many of us deal with and never know about.
While writing my book, I was shocked to calculate the number of hours we actually spend asleep. I had always heard we spent one-third of our lives asleep; I didn’t realize this was more than a 50-hour work week.
In that way, you could say sleep is the most important job any of us has. Quality, restorative sleep unlocks something deep within us: one of my patients said treating her sleep disorder gave her the courage to leave a dysfunctional relationship. A male patient of mine said getting help and sleeping better cured his anxiety and brain fog. Another said it gave him his evenings with his kids back.
For me, quality sleep means being the father and husband I want to be. For others, it means following the dream they have always had, pursuing a degree, or living the best version of themselves. What could quality sleep mean for you?
Photo: Flickr/ Jürg Stuker