At the moment, I don’t have a steady 9-to-5 gig, so the consequences of sleeping too late aren’t financial. They’re just annoyingly…biological.
You see, I’ve been diligently trying to train my body to wake up earlier. I have this wonderful soon-to-be-husband with whom I’d like to sync sleep cycles. Last night, he went to bed at 9 pm so he could wake up at 6 am for work.
Five hours later, after organizing my counter, putting away dishes, and listening to a few podcasts, I finally settled down to sleep at about 2 am.
I want to be a morning person. I really do. In fact, I blabbed enough in December about wanting to be a morning person that my fiancé bought me the Philips Wake-Up Light for Christmas. It’s this nifty little bedside alarm clock that slowly lights up like a sunrise. A half hour before your programmed wake-up time, the light glows dimly. Then, each minute, it kicks itself up a notch. When your alarm finally comes on (buzzing or bird sounds, in my model’s case), the now-bright light should make it easier for you to rouse yourself from sleep.
I mean, I certainly understand the science behind it. Simply put, we’re programmed to wake with the sunrise and fall asleep with the sunset.
So…after one month of testing, why isn’t it working for me? Why do I keep sleeping through both the light and the bird sounds? Am I a difficult case? I have a solid history of easy afternoon napping, so is my body immune to light’s wake-signaling power? I’ve trained my body to do lots of neat things within the past few years — how to breathe through my diaphragm, how to slow down my heartbeat, and how to relieve itself of a tension headache with a little bit of muscle relaxation. So, why can’t I train it to wake up early?
I’ve always favored late nights. When I had summers off from high school, I regularly found myself falling asleep around 3 or 4 am and waking up around noon. My family wasn’t exactly thrilled about this and they often warned me that I was “missing out on the day”. I politely retorted and informed them that they were missing out on the night.
Nighttime has always been my creative time. (Yes, I disagree with this recent study that says night owls are more creative during their morningtime groggy hours.)
The evening: it’s when I write and write well. It’s when I’m far more likely to solve a complex problem. It’s when I lose myself into books and ideas and daydreams.
When I don’t feel forced to commit to the regular schedule of the world around me, I open up. It’s like changing out of a starchy business blazer and into a t-shirt. There are no rules for creativity at night. Anything goes.
I can write about any topic without self-analyzing my writing through the lens of What I Learned in College Writing Classes. I can unabashedly write poems with kooky Cummings-esque punctuation. I can dive into activities for their intrinsic value. I can work without the weight of judgment.
I wonder if I should simply start embracing my membership in the Night Owl Club. A quiz on the Center for Environmental Therapeutics website even tells me that my personal melatonin onset occurs around 11 pm and that my “natural” bedtime is roughly 12:45 pm. Always one to aim for 8+ hours of sleep, wouldn’t that make my “natural” wake-up time somewhere in the ballpark of 9 am or later? Should I be fighting that or sinking into it?
And I’ve always said that we shouldn’t use caffeine to fight the urge to sleep – instead, we should lay down our coffee cups and surrender to what our body is asking us for. Even if it means bringing a pillow to work and pulling a George Costanza under your desk:
Believe it or not, I used to wake up at 6 am every day so I could begin my hour-long daily commute to work at 7 am. Those were some days I’d rather not remember. Rising that early physically hurt. My bleary-eyed mornings would drag. I’d finally pep up in the early afternoon and get most of my work done then. And, of course, would I be tired and ready for bed at 10 pm?
Never. No matter how early I’d woken up, my body wanted to be wakeful and moving and doing something — anything, really — until midnight at the absolute earliest. (It’s no wonder I eventually crumbled under that schedule. A stressful work environment for 40 hours per week with nearly 10 hours of commute time to boot? All with less than 6 hours of sleep per night? I should have seen it coming.)
I guess I’m just a night owl. Maybe it’s time to lay down the rope in my tug-of-war game with my body’s natural clock. Maybe it’s time to align my mind with my body and accept my semi-nocturnal tendencies. Instead of fighting them. Instead of holding myself to external standards of when “normal” people wake up and fall asleep. Instead of getting upset with myself for having slept through the Wake-Up Light again.
Want to find out more about your own circadian rhythm type? Take the Automated Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire here.