I’ve always wondered if the relationship individuals have with sleep stems from genetics or history. A wise old doctor told my mother when I was an infant, “don’t train your baby to resist going to bed by sending her there as a punishment.” Mom took his words to heart, and I’ve always seen going to bed at night as something to look forward to, a place to drift into relaxation away from the cares of the day.
Of course, it could just be my natural biorhymic pattern because I tried to follow the same advice with John and it didn’t work. I, the easy sleeper was bracketed by two non-sleepers. When John still lived at home, he and Mom would try to one-up each other in the who got the least amount of sleep sweepstakes. “The last time I looked at the clock, it was 3 a.m.,” John would say. “Well, the last time I looked at the clock, it was almost 4,” Mom would counter. They’d stare each other down with steely eyes — “Gunfight at the No-Sleep Corral.”
John would go through his workout program in his head to try to invoke slumber. Mom would count, sometimes into the high thousands. When I told them that my method of falling to sleep was to count backwards from 21 — and I had never made it to one — they looked at me with what seemed to be contempt. To hear them tell it, not being able to sleep was a quality to be proud of, a sign of their sensitivity. I’d offer my opinion that sliding easily into sleep was the result of a pure heart and a clear conscience but I don’t think they ever bought it.
At the other end of the day, I’ve always owned the early mornings, popping out of bed fresh and ready to fire up. As I write this, it is 4:22 a.m. and I’ve already read my e-mail and the blogs. I enjoy seeing the sunrise and hearing the birds sing. I know the phone isn’t going to ring, and no one is going to turn on the television, and my loved ones are peaceful in their beds. (This doesn’t mean so much now, but when John was young and out running around, the first thing I’d do was look to see if his car was home and breath a huge sigh of relief to see it. )
I have always been the Scarlett O’Hara of sleep, able to ban anxiety from the bedroom. No matter what stresses tried to crowd into my head, I’d think, “I can’t do anything about that now. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.” Sleep is even my relief from pain. Once I thought I was having a heart attack. I told myself, “just go to sleep and you’ll either wake up in the morning or you won’t.” Once that was settled, I drifted right off.
Unlike Mom and John, I start the day at my high point and sink as the hours pass. John always knew if he wanted to win an argument with me, the later he approached me the better. At 7 a.m., I’d debate circles around him, but by evening, my brain was winding down while he was just hitting his stride. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess that all the stupid parenting decisions I ever made were made after dark.
By contrast, try to talk to Mom and John too early and you’ll be met with growls (John) and moans (Mom).
“Go away,” Mom will beg, bleary-eyed. “I can’t function yet.”
Twice in my life, I tried to work third shift jobs, once in admitting at the hospital and once in a factory. At the hospital, I worked in an island of light, enclosed by darkness. The emergency room where all the action took place was at the other end of the building. In the middle of the night, I’d feel myself start to doze over my paperwork. I lasted about a month.
I figured the factory would be different because my job was in a huge brightly-lit room, surrounded by other people and banging machines. It didn’t matter. To my internal clock, 3 o’clock in the morning was 3 o’clock in the morning, no matter what was going on around me. Even going to the bathroom to wash my face with cold water didn’t keep my eyes from closing. I got out before I stapled my hand instead of a furnace filter.
Now they have all kinds of energy drinks for people like me — Amp and 5-Hour Energy and Red Bull. I’ve thought about trying them but I finally decided I’m too old to Amp Up. My schedule is set around my penchant for pre-dawn rising and barely dark bedtime. 21, 20, 19, 18. ...
• Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at email@example.com.