I’m doing a quest this year as part of my annual goals and resolutions. Actually I do a quest every year, but this one is special. It’s a sort of non-goal. It’s an attempt to cut back on everything else and sleep as much as possible. It’s SleepQuest 2019!
A quest has a sort of magical adventure aura about it. I might set a GOAL of running a 5k, complete it (tomorrow if I like), and then never run another step. I might set a RESOLUTION to do meal prep on Sundays, enjoy it, and do it forever. The outcomes are predictable and the steps forward are, too.
With a quest, I’m instead trying to fathom the unfathomable, explore something about which I don’t know much, and wander into a fog of uncertainty. What’s on the other side of that mist? A castle in the clouds? A cranky crocodile? Dunno! Let’s find out!
Why SleepQuest? Why now?
I have a major parasomnia disorder, pavor nocturnus, and a few other less pressing sleep issues. I started having insomnia problems when I was just seven. I thought I had all this more or less under control, but in 2018 my sleep collapsed. I started getting sick a lot. Then my night terrors came back after a hiatus of about four years. That would be reason enough.
I also figure that if I can make headway with my irritating sleep issues, it might help others as well. Maybe even hearing about how hard sleep is for me could help someone else to feel that at least their situation could be worse. That’s something, right?
When I chose sleep as my quest, I paired it with what I call a “stop goal.” I like to make resolutions, because I feel that they are far more effective than goals, and in my experience they’re much easier to keep. I’ll choose something specific that I plan to do, and I’ll form an implementation intention, such as “I resolve to set a bedtime and follow a bedtime routine.”
In the case of stop goals, I haven’t yet figured out what approach to take. All I know is that I’m annoying myself or experiencing a persistent problem. My plan is to spend the rest of the year thinking about my stop goal, noticing when it comes up, and playing around with different approaches.
I’ll read about it, talk to people about it, journal about it, and track metrics if I can. I’ll try to think, “What would be the opposite of this problem?”
As an example, one year I resolved to stop interrupting people. How do you give yourself credit for not doing something? Does it count if you’re in the shower? Or do you have to be experiencing an impulse and noticing that you fought it off? That doesn’t sound like total transformation to me. Hmm... Finally I decided that instead of a stop goal, I could rephrase it as a personal value: Become a world-class listener.
That was indeed transformational! I found in myself a very strong ability to draw stories forth from people who didn’t even know what they had. I’m in high demand as an evaluator in Toastmasters, all because I finally learned to listen deeply for five to seven minutes without interrupting. People have been known to burst into tears and hug me after I’ve listened carefully to them.
That’s the approach I like to use toward a stop goal. Right now, for 2019, my stop goal is: Stop being sick and tired.
Oh, you say, you’re just going to magically not get the common cold? You’re just going to magically fall asleep more easily, sleep through your abominable upstairs neighbors stomping around at 4:30 AM, and just... not be tired?
Yeah, pretty much. The only thing magical about the approach, besides my belief that it is fundamentally possible, is that I allow myself a full year to work on this type of project. I don’t consider it (or myself) a failure if I haven’t made progress by the third week of January.
Don’t get hung up on the negative. That’s a negative way of saying that pessimism and cynicism are their own punishments. As long as I’m thinking of my “problem” in terms of “insomnia” and “sleep disorder” and “illness” and “burnout” and “tired” and “exhausted,” I’m stuck. I’m not seeing past the ordinary. Being tired is a nearly universal problem in our culture! Also, they don’t call it the common cold for nothing.
What I want is the opposite of tired, the opposite of the common cold, whatever the heck that is. The nature of my stop goals is that I’ll only understand after I’ve spent considerable time focusing and bringing my full attention to the issue. Or maybe I could call it the subject of interest. Or the entertainment of the year. Or... the spectacle! The spectacle of my imminent transformation into... something different! A someone, a someone who is not preoccupied with exhaustion and illness.
I’ve actually already made considerable strides into my project, and I’m testing out a bunch of unrelated approaches, which I’ll list. This is profoundly, deeply, extravagantly important. ANY COMPLICATED PROBLEM ALWAYS INVOLVES A BUNCH OF STUFF.
Example: when I decided to test out the “healthy weight for my height,” it turned out there were at least eight different reasons why I tended to gain and keep excess body weight. Even making radical changes to the first three or four wasn’t enough to take me all the way. That’s what keeps me going: the experiment, the mental puzzle of the experiment and the process itself.
The thing about exploration is that, by definition, I can’t know how I’ll feel about the result until I get there. I can’t picture how the destination will look, especially if that destination is a fantasy, a mental figment where nobody else has been. Maybe I’m creating a new thought.
SleepQuest 2019, initial planning stage:
Research. Results: Quickly accumulated folder of sleep articles. Melatonin use fell under suspicion. Tested going without it. Surprise success. (More on this in future posts).
Acquire testing equipment: Fitbit Flex 2 and Fitbit app.
Brainstorm experiment parameters with bed partner, aka husband. Results: husband trains dog to quit whining at 5:00 AM by getting up for several days and telling him No. Husband sets reminder to self to stop reading the news by 9:00 PM. (More on this in future posts). I realize I need to drink an extra 12 oz of water by afternoon each day.
Create starter bedtime routine. Results: realize I need to start winding down an hour earlier.
Analyze sleep environment. Results: add item to bedtime routine to turn down heater.
Possible confounding factors: We started cooking from scratch again and upped our garlic consumption to previous levels. Seems to be helping on the cold front.
Cumulative results: I am no longer waking up and losing 90 minutes most nights; Fitbit says I’m down to just 17 minutes. The dog is no longer waking me up at 5 or 5:30 most mornings. I’m back in the gym and my energy level is already better.
SleepQuest 2019 is already a success, as far as I’m concerned. I’m averaging 7.76 hours of sleep a night over the past three weeks. (I’m skeptical about this, as the device thinks I’m “asleep” even when I do something like get out of bed, cross the room, and turn down the heater). I still have rough nights, and I still want to see if I can hit an average of 9 hours, at least for a week, just to remember what it’s like. There are still eleven months to go, so I’m going to keep going on... SleepQuest 2019!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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