Sleep Deprivation Stories by Sophie Frey

A lot of you know me as Sophie, a Franco-Swiss citizen, born and brought up near Chablis, Burgundy, France. I made London my home for 10 years and since 2008 I am living near Zürich with my husband and our 3 kids. For a year now, I run a small consultancy firm that helps small business owners in their journey to true potential and possibilities.

Figure out your circadian rhythm (your natural sleep-wake rhythm)

As a student I shared a flat with my brother, who was a great fan of going to bed at 1am, I wasn’t. Even if I had not finished an assignment, I’d rather get up earlier in the morning to wrap it up rather than going to bed very late.

When younger it is true you can sustain more sleep deprivation than when you get older, yet it cannot last for long. My brother would not sleep that much for several days in a row (usually around the weekend), but during the week he had to go to bed at a decent time.

“Sleep really affects teen’s ability to function and make good decisions”

Dr. Maida Chen, Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Coffee and sleep deprivation

I started to drink coffee when I was close to 30 years old, at the time I lived in London and I had very long working hours. I worked for an American firm with clients based between London and New Delhi and Johannesburg. It seemed glamourous on paper, and very good for your mileage reward card, yet when you had to travel to those places over the week and deal with jetlag, robbed of your sleep to catch an early plane, I felt I had to increase my coffee intake slowly, subtly to 3-4 cups a day.

Not only it became addictive, but I also realized that drinking a coffee past 3pm, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep, my brain was still very active till past midnight. Add the fact that at times, the 3am email tennis match with managers and leaders was considered a badge of honour.

At the end it got very counter-productive to stay focus and perform at the same time.

Hormonal influence and sleep

When I was pregnant for the first time more than 11 years ago, my gynecologist discovered I had an under active thyroid. I felt extremely tired often, and more often than not I enjoyed early nights. To this point though I have managed not to treat it medically. I have achieved this by adding a sleeping routine to my evening schedule. It starts when I start cooking for diner. It lasts about 3 hours till I head to bed to finally read 20 minutes before switching the light off.

When the kids were little and I was breastfeeding, I privileged sleep over a tidy house and would get a nap after lunch with my little human.

Exceptional circumstances and sleep deprivation

About three years ago, I experienced a 60-hour stretch without proper sleep. It was not intentional. We were coming back from California and my son had swallowed a 2CHF coin just before going to bed the day we flew into Zurich (for whatever reasons). My husband headed to the emergency room to have it removed. And I took over once the other 2 kids where “organized” with my neighbours.

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Over those “three” days I remember clearly the side effects of sleep deprivation, it felt like trying to juggle while riding a bike:

  • Everything I tried to achieve became much tougher;
  • I was hungry all the time;
  • I was craving for “comforting” food and was emotionally eating, which led to overeating;
  • I was more prone to stress and losing it with the kids;
  • I was also emotionally reactive and felt more anxious and worried about anything; and
  • I was drinking coffee more than I should have.

Yet, I’ve never recovered so quickly from a 9-hour jet lag than by finally having a good night sleep after those 60 hours of sleep deprivation.

Entrepreneurship and sleep, a few tips

About a year ago, I’ve started my own entrepreneurial journey as a solo entrepreneur.  The knowledge accumulated over the years around sleep has helped me to be able to keep my energy levels up, work on complex tasks, reduce procrastination, be focused, stay creative, reactive and open.

  • By knowing my circadian rhythm (I am a morning person) and having a regular and daily 7-8 hours of sleep I can function properly the next day.
  • By figuring out my chronotypes, I’m able to maximise on my prime, high and low times, as well as be smart about them and design my day around them. I will do complex tasks during the prime and/or high times, more repetitive, not so demanding tasks during the low time.
  • Although my husband and I are of different chronotypes (he is more the night owl), we would still get up and go to bed at the same time. I tend to switch off the light earlier around 10:30pm. I would sleep in at the weekend till past 7am (mind you that is not sleeping in in teenager’ terms) if need be. During the week, we both wake up at 6:00-6:15am.
  • To increase the quality of sleep, the bedroom is very dark, only a tiny bit of daylight would come through early in the morning. I also appreciate having a weighted blanket at night. According to some studies, it releases hormones such as the serotonin and endorphins (I know as much that those are “happy” hormones) that calm down the body and alleviate insomnia.
  • In case of insomnia, which happens during high stressing times, I would meditate more, to bring back inner peace and calmness, and also exercise more to be physically tired.

We are not made to be tired all the time, sleep deprivation is not a sign of hard work, dedication or toughness. Everyone (from children to athletes) is more productive and healthier when we can get enough quality sleep.

Sophie Frey


This article is part of the “Sleep and Wellbeing” Blog carnival.

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