Asleep By Dawn
I don’t so much fall asleep as melt. But either way, for myself and others, it’s a ceding of control. Which could be why sleep remains about as popular in this town as coastal flooding.
Clients will come in and complain of irritability or difficulty focusing, but I bring up lack of sleep as a possible cause, and they’ll just yawn. In a city where workaholism is something a new employer wants to see evidence of on a resumé, to suggest one may be suffering from chronic lack of sleep is akin to suggesting they may be suffering from a chronic lack of debt.
In this town, even the booze is loaded with pick-me-ups. A few years ago the beer companies were experimenting with stimulants in some specialized products and marketing them to the younger set. They no doubt realized that Red Bull, which young men like to mix with beer or vodka, was cutting into their market.
Their ad slogan? “You’ll sleep when you’re 30!”
But while Red Bull and 5 Hour Energy are new to the city, it’s no secret that the drugs of choice here have long been coffee and cocaine.
And New Yorkers are not the only demographic which abhors sleep. I once caught a stand up act on Comedy Central where the guy was riffing on how his girlfriend caught him napping one day and totally freaked out.
“But baby, it’s Sunday afternoon! I just worked a 60 hour week, and just spent all day with you yesterday! I’m exhausted!”
“You’re a lazy bum!”
Except it’s not funny. I myself, after dating a lovely woman for about six months, had a rude awakening at her house one morning when I decided, for my birthday, to sleep in late. To her, it was as if I’d betrayed a sacred trust, and that was essentially the end of things between us.
Imagine, all those relationships as a younger man I could have escaped from just by sleeping in!
“Early to rise, early to bed, makes a man healthy, wealthy and dead.” — James Thurber
I’ve also discovered that altering my sleep alters my perceptions. For example, I’ve noticed that when I lack enough shut-eye for more than a night, an interesting shift takes place. I’m tired, but not all of me. What is dragging, besides my body of course, seems to be limited to my left brain — that is, the part of my mind that is logical, linear, analytical. This turns out to be a mixed blessing. My right brain, which is more intuitive, expressive and creative, is all there, and right there: I can respond to the environment quite well and with a spontaneity that is otherwise often impeded by thought. My gut responses at such times are usually excellent, and what can emerge from me can be close to peak performance. In a way I’m more present, partially because the perennially chattering monkeys in my head have fallen into an exhausted silence.
Conversely, after a good (or just long) night’s sleep, I often wake up with the monkeys refreshed and ready to roll…or analyze, or obsess, about a dozen different things. It’s like they awake hungry and in need of chewing on something. I’ve gotten wise to this recently and try to direct them towards problem solving (often at a peak when I first wake) or just towards positive things, lest the monkeys drive me bananas before I even get out of bed.
That’s partially because when I wake, I sit up in bed for about half an hour. I move slowly into my day, which blooms late, much like I have.
I’ve also tried to keep the monkeys at bay when I wake up in the middle of the night (an affliction of age, especially in men. I believe the medical term for it is Menypippis). I hear them stirring and trying to keep me up, so I try my best to redirect my mind back to the last dream, or to a visual image as opposed to actual words. I’m sure if I meditated I’d be better at this.
But instead of meditate I medicate. Long ago I discovered the wonders of Diphenhydramine, commonly known as Benadryl. No doubt someone at the company, realizing one day that the biggest complaint about their popular antihistamine was that it made people drowsy, thought, “Hmmm, that gives me an idea!” Now you can buy the exact same 25-milligram pill as an allergy med, or pay somewhat more for it as a sleep aide. Anyway, it works for me, and is much safer than Ambien, which knocks me out but also tends to knock out holes where my memory should be.
Anyway, I can modulate my perspective by tweaking my sleep. And since I seem to have a tendency to be somewhat thick with thoughts in a downbeat way, I need to watch that I don’t get too much sleep or the thoughts will thicken more and clog up my mood.
And speaking of mood, Shelley knows not to speak to me in the morning. I awake with my ego boundaries all down, and to be spoken to and have to respond just jars me. If she ever divorces me, this will no doubt be the reason, as she wakes up ready to hit the ground talking.
I also discovered a while back that, contrary to what I’d always been taught, I can flex my sleep schedule often and at will, and be fine with it. My system quickly adapts, so I don’t have to be beholden to any strict (or, God forbid, “normal”) schedule. Hence I can do this blog when I do, as I tend, like the Wolf Man, to thrive at night. I write from midnight to about dawn on Tuesday mornings. Tuesdays I wake about noon and drag my body through a fairly short (c. 12 hour) day. Then I sleep a good 9-10 hours, and wake Wednesday all refreshed, and of course, there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. (I even had a dream once where I declared, “Sleep is the new speed!”) If I further happen to sleep long, again, the next day, something very curious happens. My dreams become increasingly interesting and pleasant as the morning progresses. It’s as if my system is trying to seduce me into catching up with all the sleep it needs.
So just as I am not wont to go to sleep, I don’t want to wake up in the morning. And I started like 40 years ago to average around 8.5 hours of sleep a night, which is clearly above the norm. But it works for me, and I believe helps me stay healthy. It will probably help me live longer too, although the extra years may only be equivalent to all those above-average number of hours I spent sleeping.
Anyway the sun’s coming up, so it’s about time I hit the hay.