Ryan Frantz
Gettin' Shuteye

I Need to Sleep

As I draft this, I’m tired. I’ve been up late nights either reading, coding, playing with a new tool or watching The Avengers for the umpteenth time (I really dig it).

Some nights I go to bed at a decent hour. And I almost always stay up late the following night working on some idea. You see, I love to learn and I don’t ever want to stop. I’m always trying to improve myself; whether it’s a new language, my first capture-the-flag event, or learning to play the harmonica, I try to squeeze as much as I can into the time that’s available. I set goals and go after them.

However, there’s a tradeoff being made here; a big one. By staying up late, I’m sacrificing a lot. Interestingly, not getting sufficient sleep has a cascading effect. When I don’t sleep enough, I am tired. I might not be able to focus as much at work (depending on how much of Avengers I chose to watch). Then, I get frustrated that I’m not making enough progress on a project. That can lead to a general dissatisfaction that may carry over to dinner time where I’m short with the kids or don’t pay attention to the fact that my wife just hit another running PR, because I’m still thinking about work. So I stay up late to close the gap, and the cycle repeats. Perhaps I find solace in the old “there aren’t enough hours in the day” adage.

That’s not good enough for me. You see, not only do I want to be a better engineer, I want to be a better husband, father, and person. I want to produce and I want to he happy. I have work-related and personal goals that I want to accomplish.

There Really Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day, a Monologue

Q: There really are only 24 hours in a day. What does one to about it? Especially when one’s list is chock full of things to do?

A: Sleep. At least 8 hours.

Q: But that means there are only 16 hours left in the day, and I still have to eat, shower, commute, work, commute, eat, watch Avengers… How do I fit in all those things?

A: You don’t.

When constraints are applied to a system, in this case, our day, our output is limited. Fascinatingly, this can be liberating. Imagine you’ve built a long list of to-do items. The longer the list, the greater the chance of choice paradox setting in (which items to tackle first). When time is limited, it forces us to focus on the things that matter. It’s freeing to recognize that given a small amount of time, some things won’t get done. This is a good thing! It means we can prioritize our work and get closer to achieving our goals. If it’s not important, it doesn’t go on the to-do list (wish lists are OK but I’m leaving those out of this discussion).

Getting better at prioritizing starts (for me) with getting more sleep and understanding that I won’t be able to do everything I want to do every single day. This was a difficult realization for me to make. Or, my pride kept me from acknowledging this for some time. But my sense of pride also forced to recognize that I’ve not been hitting some of my goals. So something has to change.

Sleep Goal

I’ve thought a lot about managing my sleep, even talked about it a little but I’ve not done much about it. I’ve been wearing a Jawbone UP for a few months now to track my sleep and activity, but I’ve not yet attempted to hit any sleep goals. So now, I will.

I plan to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Simple.

Final Thoughts

We all need sleep to be productive and happy. How one measures those two qualities can vary. My team at Etsy has been doing some really interesting things with our sleep data that we’ve been collecting. We have more ideas in the pipeline such as measuring the mean time to sleep (MTTS) when we’re woken up to address Nagios alerts and the on-call rotations’ impact on one’s cognitive abilities.

I’ll write more about these things as we learn more.

But first, I’ve got to catch some Z’s.