If you read my posts or emails then you know I’m a night owl. I find the wee hours to be inspiring. Maybe it’s the mystery or romanticism of the dark, but, writing at 1 A.M., my ideas flow quickly from my brain out through my fingers to the keyboard onto the glowing screen.
I’m pretty quiet but also lucky that my husband can sleep through the clicking, since his schedule is totally different from mine. He wakes up at the crack of dawn, creeps around getting ready and I learned long ago to sublimate those early morning sounds and let them go, allowing myself to sleep a while longer until it’s time to wake up the kids.
Thankfully, most of my work is accomplished at home. I rarely have meetings or classes scheduled before 9, allowing me a slower start and the ability to be productive in the evening. I had this tendency beginning when I was a child, reading in the dark with a flashlight. When my own kids came along, the middle of the night is when our home was peaceful, allowing me my own time, when I could read, think, obsess and write without disturbance. Now my house is much quieter, but it’s still hard to focus through typical interruptions of the workday, ringing phones, beeping messages, waiting chores.
It’s easier to be productive without the real and virtual worlds’ distractions. After midnight, the airplanes taking off and landing overhead are farther apart. The hourly warning horns and dings of the lowering barrier for the east and west bound trains by my house are soothing. Even Facebook exchanges simmer down, leaving only my insomniac and time-zone challenged friends commenting, while those with a “normal” schedule embrace Morpheus well before midnight.
I thought it was abnormal, but perhaps it’s not so unique staying up so late. Last night I came across an article in the Well section of the New York Times about morning people versus evening people, circadian rhythms and how to change your sleep pattern. The readers’ comments showed that most night owls are a little defensive about their “rebellious” schedule and certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on the cool night vibe by changing their style. Early birds are a little self-righteous, too, following the sensibility of the old adage “early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise.”
Staying up late and getting up early certainly takes its toll on a body; prolonged insufficient sleep is unhealthy. I know from my husband’s night shifts that you can’t ever really make up for lost sleep, though try you may. People like me who stay up late, obviously have a hard time waking up early, especially in the winter. I learned that feeling alert in the morning requires the help of environmental and social cues, especially sunlight. Getting active quickly, having a breakfast routine, or other activity helps to jump start your new day.
I am quite motivated to get up early in the spring and summer. Sunlight streams in through my diaphanously curtained windows and annoyingly loud gardening noises sound like they’re inside my bedroom. I simply sigh, get up and get on with it.
One tactic to change your wake up time is to adjust slowly by arising a few minutes earlier each day. Though as a night person I enjoy sleeping in, I prefer the “spring forward” to “fall back” time changes so I can enjoy more of the wonderful, therapeutic sunlight.
Traveling is a great motivator to wake up early and make the most of my trip. When we journey to another time zone, I try to switch right into local time, though that’s easier said than done. The excitement of being in a new place, plus the fact that I didn’t sleep in my cramped coach seat, don’t help. I traveled with an early-bird friend who ensured I woke up with the crows by feeding me delicious “shoko” to raise my sugar level. I’m learning to go with the flow, do some yoga breathing and take Melatonin or half an Ambien to induce sleep in a foreign land.
I learned a new term--“social jetlag.” Similar to travel jetlag, it’s caused by a clump of connected holiday—three-day Shabbat and Yom Tovs come to mind, summer vacation, winter break, or having guests stay in your home, and all contribute to changed sleep patterns.
Entertaining guests radically changes our schedule. Devoting energy to overseas visitors 24/7 creates a great fun high, but is complemented with exhaustion and a letdown when they depart. I suspect that getting older makes it harder to bounce back from social jet lag, but I’ve noticed that even my college-age son’s late nights out and last minute essay writing have contributed to low resistance. It definitely helps to fit in a power nap and ten minutes of shivasana (yoga resting pose) can work wonders!
Remember the public service announcement, “It’s 10 P.M., do you know where your children are?” Well, it’s 2 A.M. and they’re asleep but I’m not! Layla Tov.
Miriam Bradman Abrahams is Cuban born, Brooklyn bred and lives in Woodmere. She organizes author events for Hadassah, reviews books for Jewish Book World and is very slowly writing her father’s immigration story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.