Thursday, July 2, 2015

Early Riser



I have vague memories of sleeping until noon.

They're mostly memories of high school--or, rather, of summer vacations during my high school years. In a pattern I've recently learned is a natural part of adolescent development, I stayed up well past midnight, sometimes until two or three in the morning, reading science fiction novels. My parents weren't too happy about me being up that late, so I took to hiding the lamp under my bed sheets. Risky, thoughtless behavior is also a natural part of adolescence: there were a number of times when, after hours of reading, I dozed off, only to be awakened by the smell of a sheet being scorched by the hot incandescent bulb it had collapsed into as I slumped into my pillow. Staying awake that late, and then needing nine or more hours of sleep, I would often stumble downstairs, still groggy, at lunchtime.

Those days are gone.

I'm not sure when my minimal sleep quota shrank from nine to eight to, now, somewhere between five and six hours a night, but I can tell you exactly when I lost the ability to sleep through sunrise let alone the entire morning: September 3, 2013.

That's the day I began teaching at Margaret Scott Elementary School. My work day at Scott begins at 7 a.m. Factoring in the 35-40 minute commute, that means I have to be out the door by 6:20 on a school day. Working back from that time to factor in showering, shaving, breakfast, preparing a lunch to take with me, brushing my teeth, and kissing Amy goodbye, that means I've got to be up by 5:00 a.m. five days out of seven.

Well, you may be thinking, at least you've got weekends and holidays to sleep in! That would be wonderful if I could, but at some point in the last couple of decades, I lost the ability. My body has decided that 5:00 is wake-up time, whether or not the sun's up. During the summer, the one thing that could be different for me is climbing back into bed after doing what needs to be done in the necessary room, and having some extended snuggle time with Amy--and if it's a cool morning, I do just that. Sometimes I even manage to doze off for a little bonus sleep time. With the heat wave we've had this week, though, it's just too warm for snuggling.

So I get up and head downstairs. I make coffee, empty the dishwasher, put any leftover dishes that didn't make it in the night before in, have breakfast, catch up on the news, water the roses, balance the accounts on my computer, write a blog--or I go running and do all those other things when I get back.

These summer morning activities are, typically, alone time. I don't mind that, don't begrudge Amy a minute of the sleep she's enjoying during my early morning time. In fact, I rather envy her that ability, as I find myself needing catnaps during the afternoon--though as with my nightly sleep time, these naps are abbreviated compared to what other people enjoy. Usually I only need a minute or two, and then I'm ready to resume whatever I was doing before my eyes so inconveniently insisted on closing.

I expect this to continue throughout the summer. I haven't set my alarm once since school got out, and I've been reliably awake by 5:00 almost every day.

I wrote a few paragraphs back that late nights and the late mornings that go with them are natural body rhythms for teenagers, and apart from my own distant memories of teenage sleep, I've seen this play out with all the teens who've been a part of my adult life. I expect my much-reduced sleep requirements are themselves a product of development: my body just doesn't need as much sleep as it did when I was younger. The puzzling part is how my body rhythms compare to those of others my age: I really seem to be at the low end of the scale when it comes to sleep time, so low that every article I see about sleep makes me worry that I get so little of it.

But I don't worry for long. There's so much more I can accomplish with those extra hours each morning--even if by "accomplish" I mean "waste." I know I spend more time than I should checking Facebook or playing Angry Birds on my phone. If I just picked up a book instead, I could get in a solid hour or two of uninterrupted reading every morning. Or if I opened up my laptop instead, I could be blogging daily. And wouldn't you love that?

How to wrap up a meditation on sleep? By putting the blog to bed, of course. Sweet dreams.

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