No pain no gain. For most of my life, I 200% believed this. No way you could possibly reach your full potential unless you put 200% into everything you do.
And for me, 200% meant 15+ hour workdays plus working on weekends. It meant staying up to ‘finish it’, whatever ‘it’ was in that particular moment. Even if that would require pulling an all-nighter. It meant constantly hustling: long hours, all the time, no breaks, no time for sleep, no time for fun. After all, how else would I realize my dreams and achieve success in life?
“Sleep? 4 hours a night is all I need! There’s too much to do and too little time to do it in. I can sleep when I’m dead!” I would say to people who suggested I should sleep more.
This misconception of working hard and not deserving a break was ingrained in my psyche as a child.
Growing up with traditional Chinese parents, getting 99% was just not enough. “Where did the last 1% go,” my dad would question?
As an adult, it was further reinforced by the media and corporate work cultures. Phrases like: ‘I have so much on my plate at work’, ‘I’ve been working ridiculous hours’, or ‘I am completely swamped at work’ have become a bragging right of sorts; a medal of honor. You’re not achieving enough unless you can boast about how busy and swamped you are.
I was sucked into the vortex of these bragging rights. I was always busy. Always swamped. So much on my plate. I wore my ‘medal of honor’ with pride. I also survived off caffeine. I was TheraFlu’s best customer. I would mindlessly eat through boxes of cereal as I worked. Oftentimes, I felt so exhausted that I’d fall asleep in the oddest of places, including my dentist’s office in the midst of getting a cleaning. Insomnia was like a family member that I didn’t want around, but would always show up at the most annoying times. And guess what? Despite how much I worked, I still felt behind. There was always more to do.
While success and hard work are often lauded and openly spoken about, what isn’t as vocalized and certainly not celebrated, is the necessity for rest and rejuvenation.
Just like your mobile phone needs to be plugged in to recharge, so do you. But can you imagine a conversation where everyone outwardly boasts about the number of hours they slept? Or how they took time off to rest? These are the very conversations we should be having, but are not.
Nor are we talking enough about all the health issues that arise from overwork and stress.
Perhaps it’s because we’re so caught in the midst of societal expectations for reaching success. Or perhaps we just don’t even recognize what’s happening to our own health. Or maybe we just don’t believe it could happen to us. I certainly didn’t.
On a typical Thursday morning, I awoke to my alarm going off. After hitting the snooze button a few times, I finally dragged myself out of bed. I noticed a slight dull ache around my right rib. Thought nothing of it and just continued my day.
As the day wore on, the pain increased. I ignored it. Was too busy with things I had to get done to worry about it. I popped a few Ibuprofen pills to ease the pain. By evening, the pain had become excruciating. I popped a few more Ibuprofen and lay on the floor of my apartment, curled up in a fetal position to ease the sharpness. My work phone in one hand, I finished responding to a few more emails. Yeah… I can’t believe I was doing that either. But, what’s even more shocking (or perhaps it’s not that shocking) are the number of people who would be doing the same thing in my situation.
The Ibuprofen finally kicked in and I fell asleep on the floor, still in a fetal position. But once the pain-killer wore off, I woke up to a stabbing on my insides. So painful that it made me whimper and my eyes tear up. I finally conceded that I needed to see a doctor. But it was 2 a.m.
“Maybe I can make it to morning,” I thought.
But a sharp stab on the inside, as if a Roman warrior were inside jabbing away with her sharp sword, changed my mind. I called an Uber to take me to the hospital.
The rest of the night was a blur. I was given an IV and morphine for the pain. I passed out almost immediately. Nobody could tell me what was wrong. Even after x-rays, scans, multiple blood draws and doctors poking and prodding, the results showed that I seemed to be fine. Just that my body was telling me to rest. It was scary. It was also an awakening for me. I needed to change. I just didn’t know how.
It was a journey from then to now. And I can’t say it was an easy one. I fell back into my old habits quite a few times. But I kept getting back up and trying again.
What I discovered was the magic pill that had been missing from my life: sleep!
After my first week of sleeping 7+ hours every night, I noticed massive shifts. I became more alert and was able to concentrate more. This actually enabled me to get my work done better and faster. No more junk food cravings, which also helped reduce joint inflammation in my knees. And my physical performance noticeably increased in my daily workouts. No more insomnia. No more getting sick all the time (sorry TheraFlu!). And in general, I found myself to be a more chipper person to be around. Who wouldn’t want to be more productive, more healthy AND fun to be around?
This experience opened up a whole new world of possibilities.
I realized the ideology of “no pain no gain” for what it was–a misconception, a misnomer, a complete and utter lie. “I’ve had it all wrong! It’s actually ‘no health no wealth’!”
So if you want to be more productive, do this one thing: get more sleep.
It took me having to be hospitalized and a lot of pain to figure this out. I hope you won’t wait that long. After all, wouldn’t you prefer to be getting restful sleeping rather than burning that midnight oil? Feeling energized rather than completely exhausted? It’s possible to get sleep and improve your productivity level. Sounds counterintuitive I know. But true indeed.
Advice on sleep
I experimented and learned a lot during my journey. One of the most useful pieces of advice I received is the importance of having a routine in place, particularly a consistent evening routine. Evening routine means the last hour before sleep. Making sure your last hour does not involve any devices with blue light and absolutely no work. Consistent means the same time each night regardless of whether it’s a weeknight or weekend. Changing the time of your evening routine will you throw off your rhythm and require your body to readjust. So aim for consistency. Here are also Healthline’s 17 Tips to Sleep Better if you’re interested in some additional tips (no, I’m not affiliated with them). Sweet dreams!