Dream On! Get The Sleep You Deserve

Hopefully by now, most of us have learned about the power of sleep and the negative effects of avoiding sleep to work longer. If that’s true, why do those working on campaigns still sleep so little? Why do we praise people for staying at the office until 3AM to correct a mistake (that they probably made while tired) or to prepare for a big event (that they need maximum energy for)? Why do campaign organizers give up entirely on getting a good night’s sleep once September rolls around?

I’ve worked on my fair share of campaigns so I know just how hard it is to fit in all of the work (and the face-time, let’s be real), the occasional trip to the gym, the down-time activities like watching TV or hanging out with friends that give you the slightest sense of normalcy, let alone even just a few hours of sleep each night. And I know that no matter how much I wanted to prioritize sleep, sometimes my (well-meaning) managers made that impossible.

I also have the perspective of being outside a campaign and watching leaders in the progressive space encourage those they manage to give absolutely everything they have to the cause and the campaign—the way organizers are taught to feel like any time not spent organizing is a waste of time.

Everybody means well when they ask their organizers to dedicate themselves so entirely to the work. In a lot of ways, that dedication is necessary—you use so much emotional and physical energy to be an organizer, there just isn’t a ton to spare for other pursuits. And the urgency your regional creates in you mirrors the urgency you need to create in your volunteers and voters.

But when it comes to the way we talk about and approach sleep on campaigns, something has to change.

So much needs to be done by managers at every level to encourage better sleep habits. Hopefully, as we continue to improve our prioritization, management and organizing skills (check out Issue #3!), the necessary shifts will begin to happen. In the meantime, if you want to do your job to the best of your ability, you have to prioritize your health and the most neglected, most essential part of your health when organizing: sleep.

We did some research with Ariana Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution, and here are a few reasons she discusses why you should prioritize sleep:

  • Sleep is a time of intense neurological activity: a time of renewal, memory consolidation, brain and neurochemical cleansing and cognitive maintenance. Huffington rightfully calls our sleeping time as valuable a commodity as the time we are awake.
  • Sacrificing sleep doesn’t make us more productive. Our loss of sleep adds up to more than 11 days of lost productivity per year per worker. Do you have 11 days to lose?
  • Lack of sleep makes us more susceptible to all sorts of illnesses—right now, it’s the common cold, but with time it could be diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and more.
  • When you’re sleep deprived, you’re dangerous. You could fall asleep at the wheel, make decisions with the same impairment as a drunk person, or lose focus right when you need it.

Sleep is key to mental health, memory capacity, decision-making, social competence, creativity, and relationship-building skills. Do you need those things to be a good organizer? (YES!!)

Let’s put a few things in perspective.

Stop being a martyr.

Every single campaign has martyrs. Even if you roll your eyes at martyr tendencies happening around you, you probably do some of them every once in awhile too.

When you’re working on causes you care about, trying to contribute as much as possible to the world, you’re exhausted, feel underappreciated, and are generally ambitious. These things make you a little crazy and make you want to boast about your challenging circumstances, whether it’s bragging about how late you worked or constantly complaining about how you feel more miserable than the person next to you because you worked even harder and got even less sleep.

It’s time to stop that behavior. It helps no one.

Needing to sleep does not make you weak—it makes you human. Deprioritizing sleep does not make you more committed to the cause—it makes you less likely to be successful. Don’t encourage or reward behavior that results in unnecessary sleeplessness in yourself, your coworkers, your interns, or your volunteers.

Celebrate sleep.

Just like you recognize a volunteer for their hard work, you need to appreciate when you and others make time for sleep. While it may feel like you’re sacrificing something when you make time for sleep, you’re actually preparing yourself to be more efficient and productive. If you’re more efficient and productive, you can get even more done.

So congratulate each other when you get enough sleep (or even just a little more sleep than the night before). Shout out your volunteers who hit all their goals while being well-rested (or just a little more rested). Encourage healthy sleep habits wherever you can.

Stress-obsessing over every challenge you have and every task you need to do while you’re trying to fall asleep is wasteful and useless.

Psychologist Neil Fiore puts it best:

“Calling up the stress response to deal with dangers that are not happening now is similar to pulling a fire alarm for a fire that happened twenty years ago or to fearing a fire that may happen next year. It would be unfair to the fire department and a misuse of its time and energy to ask firefighters to respond to such an alarm, just as it’s unfair to demand that your body continually respond to threats of danger from events that cannot be tackled now.”

Now, here are a few tips for getting more and better sleep.

Turn your brain off.

This is the hardest thing to do, but leaving your brain running is pointless. One thing to try is to do a brain dump before getting in bed: write down everything you need to do when you wake up the next day and then let it go for the night.

Meditation is also a great way to turn your mind off (here are some tips on getting started). Some of you might have little interest in learning to meditate properly and that’s fine, but there are easy ways to reap the benefits of mindfulness. Count how long your breaths are coming in and out, repeat a phrase to yourself, and take long, deep breaths.

Take naps.

Naps are so good! There are so many times in organizing where you can squeeze in a quick nap and each time you do so, you increase your productivity for the rest of the day.

If you ever ask yourself, “Should I get more caffeine or take a cat nap?” the answer should always be “Take a cat nap.” Grab them literally wherever and whenever you can.

Stop drinking.

Yikes, I know, but when you’re short on sleep, it’s time to cut out the alcohol. Though you may fall asleep faster after a couple drinks, alcohol quickly turns into a sleep disrupter, taking the few hours you have and making them less effective. When the hours get crazy, take a break from alcohol—it’s not permanent, I promise.

Talk to your manager.

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it’s going to start to show eventually. The earlier you accept that you need sleep, the less damage the sleep-deprived monster version of yourself will have a chance to do.

That means sometimes you’re going to have to leave the office before you’ve exhausted every action available to you and you may feel uncomfortable doing that. Work with your manager to figure out when and how you can leave the office earlier. Ask for an opportunity to show that taking more time to sleep tonight will pay off tomorrow. Be honest about how tired you are and work together to find solutions that get you the sleep you need and deserve.

There is so much work to be done to make the world a fairer and more just place for all. It can be so daunting to think of everything you could be doing to make a difference. You will not be able to contribute nearly as much to the world, however, if you are not healthy. Be intentional and proactive about sleep and you will reap the rewards.