Sleep is for the weak (and other lies your brain tells you at 3am)

So, I’m what you could probably call a terminal night owl. Because, much like smoking crack and drinking cough syrup, not sleeping enough is now apparently a lethal “life style choice.”

Except I’m not sure it’s much of a choice. I can remember many many nights of childhood, laying awake and listening to Johnny Carson on the television and wishing I could just be UP UP UP. And I can remember many many mornings where I had to be dragged bodily from my blankets and forced to make the long slow trudge to school. I even have a photo around here somewhere of my sullen morning look when woken early on a camping trip. I look like a hostile 7 year old zombie.

Nursing school was complete hell in this regard. I often had to be at clinicals at “oh-too-freaking-early” in the morning, and some insane professors would tell you to simply show up an hour EARLIER to do your paperwork if you couldn’t manage to get it done the day before. Really? Earlier? I am barely breathing at 5am, much less able to function around other people. If I work nights, I can fake it long enough to do shift change at 6:45 if I must, but then driving home is hazardous. The sun comes up and my natural instinct is to burrow under the covers.

So I basically sleep-walked through the first three hours of any clinical shift and began to approximate a human being somewhere around 9am. Oh I was competent– I’m never anything but, due to huge performance anxiety– but compassionate and friendly and all that social jazz? Forget it.

But 10pm to 3am? That’s the sweet spot. That’s when books get read and laundry gets done and quiet hours get whiled away with documentary films and long baths and plans for couponing. I started living like this basically as soon as I was on my own, which is to say at the tender age of 16. I set my own hours . . . yeah, and totally bombed my first two morning classes my senior year of high school. I think they may have been a math class and something about politics. I can’t really remember.

It didn’t particularly matter, as I dropped out a month or two before graduation anyway. But at the time, it was a harsh little reality check that the world at large does not seem to appreciate the internal clock of the night owl.

I’ve had to think about this again because my older daughter has been working a different shift at her job, so I’ve been getting up at 6 to get my younger daughter ready for school. I get her on the bus and wish desperately for more time to sleep, but by then the baby is awake and ready for morning playtime and breakfast. And by the time I get him ready for his morning nap, the older boys are up and want breakfast and attention. My older daughter has been doing these tasks for me for the past couple of years while I steal two or three hours of sleep, but when she’s at work, I’m on my own. So I end up getting no sleep at all, which makes me extremely unhappy and also fairly unwell.

Because, you see, I can’t seem to sleep at night. I can go to sleep at 9 or 10, perhaps, but I’ll wake at midnight, relentlessly awake. If I do manage to get to sleep, I’m awake and alert the next time the baby wakes up wanting a bottle. And, no matter how much sleep I get, I feel incredibly drowsy as soon as the sun comes up.

Maybe I’m a daywalker vampire.

Anyway, they tell us now that people who stay up all night tend to die earlier. So, according to their best guesses and Puritanical rubrics, I should start zonking out at 9pm and getting up with the birds at break of day. Except I *did* that for two years while in nursing school and it was absolute hell. I never did adjust to it. As soon as I could, I switched to night shift and went right on from there to my post-work life of midnight Netflix sprees and living on too few hours of sleep.

Telling me to quit staying up late is something akin to telling a lifelong smoker that they have to quit smoking. My life has been formed around this habit. My children have spent their childhood hours of sleep hearing the rumble of the dryer and Mom’s feet padding into their room to deposit a fresh stack of clothes on their dresser. The baby can hear me start the bathtub in his sleep. He wakes, of course, and howls, because he intends to have every moment of Momma’s attention focused on HIM. He has his priorities, and laundry is not one of them.

So I have played countless hours of online video games with people from the opposite side of the globe, read more books than is generally possible since I don’t have children interrupting my concentration every five minutes, and attuned myself to the pleasures of the darkness. It rains more often at night, and I love to listen to it. Birds don’t stop singing at night, it’s just a different shift of birds (mockingbirds, those buggers, never shut up day or night.) There’s less air pollution, there’s stars to gaze upon, and there’s a precious coolness in the air that’s way too fleeting in the Southern and Western states I’ve mostly lived in.

I’ve always struggled with mornings, including one terrible year where we ended up having to go to truancy court when my younger daughter missed the bus a dozen or two too many times. If you think I have a sleep problem, you should see her– she has, from toddlerhood, slept only about three hours a night. It made my life pretty hellish for a while, because 3 hours of sleep is not nearly enough for a tired pregnant mom, and we’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of dollars searching for a medication to make her sleep. Right now, she’s taking a huge dose of melatonin and a couple Benadryl each night. That gets about five hours from her. Better than three, anyway.

The funny thing is that, since I am no morning person, mornings on vacations are exotic wonderlands. There is, hands-down, no more thrilling thing to me than early morning chilly air with the fresh scent of diesel exhaust on the wind. Because, for me, that’s always a trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Yeah, that’s about the only time I can get up in the morning and make it somewhere and not be a miserable wench about it.

But, let’s be honest . . .  we usually visit in the off-season and that early morning rope-drop at the Magic Kingdom?

It isn’t until 9am. 🙂


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