There’s nothing worse than a sleepless night, is there? Unless you have a job as a mattress tester, there’s generally no way to make up the lost sleep during the day. While there are studies out there advocating for “power-napping” at work, most companies (i.e., the ones you and I work for) haven’t yet embraced such forward thinking.
My restlessness seems to come in spurts — I’ll have trouble sleeping for several nights in a row, then the next night get back to normal. The worst for me was two solid weeks where I just could not get to sleep, not for a single minute. That was the one time I took a prescription sleep aid — the good news, I didn’t suddenly awake to find myself operating heavy machinery or walking along the side of the highway; the bad news, it didn’t help me get to sleep at all.
Lately I’ve been going through a bout of insomnia, and what’s particularly frustrating is that I fall asleep just fine but wake up several hours in and then can’t get back to sleep until the first hints of dawn, if at all. Reading doesn’t help, mostly because I start to get drowsy and drop whatever weighty tome I’m perusing on my face, which wakes me up all over again. (I find a dropped smartphone also leaves a mark.) Generally, I come downstairs and turn on my old friend the television. If I’m lucky, there’s a “Law & Order” rerun on: I’ve seem ’em all yet have forgotten the plot twists, so I can feel both relaxed and intrigued at the same time. Inevitably, if there’s a movie on that I’d want to see, it’s already started and I hate to come in after the movie has started. I don’t watch so-called “reality TV” — the news is reality enough for me, thank you very much — or infomercials, and don’t care for the hyper-caffeinated pace of most sports highlight shows rerun in the middle of the night. That pretty much leaves flipping through the channel guide as my principal viewing activity. Mostly I end up seeing what was on, the program I would have wanted to watch that just ended.
Over the years, I’ve become much more of an “early to bed” person. During a period when my job responsibilities were at their most demanding, I’d routinely wake up pretty early — usually between 5 or 5:30 — regardless of whatever latitude I’d given myself to sleep later via the alarm setting. (And if I knew I had to get up extra early for a business trip, then I was guaranteed not to sleep a wink while waiting for that 4:00 AM alert.) Workday, weekend, it didn’t matter – I’d wake up at the same time on Saturday and Sunday as during the week. The concept of “sleeping in” was foreign to me.The last few years work hasn’t been as demanding (or, frankly, as rewarding), and I’ve gradually found my way to where I don’t wake up until the clock tells me it’s time to vacate the covers. However, now I find that the later I go to bed, the earlier I wake up. Even on the weekends, if I’ve been out at a party or to see a show, or stay up to watch “SNL” or a movie on cable, for every hour after my customary turn-in time that I finally hit the hay, I get up that much earlier in the morning. To bed at 10 means waking up around 6:30; to bed at 11:30 results in ready to go at 5. After midnight I might as well not even bother with putting a dent in the mattress. Fortunately, we have cats to keep me company whenever I come downstairs, and by “keep me company” I mean “pester me mercilessly until I feed them”.
I worked third-shift some years ago and enjoyed it. It was nice to have the run of the place with no interference from the executive team and in the company of fellow late-nighters. If I’d been single at that time, I would have found the schedule ideal and tried to maintain it forever. Being married with a young one (our son had just started elementary school) made it more challenging: I’d get home just in time to help get him out the door for the school bus and would sleep until he came home, but that was never quite enough and those little ones surely want to be entertained in the afternoon. I’d sometimes take a nap after dinner, before leaving for work — but naps leave me sluggish and grumpy and, in that state, a less-than-optimal driver. A number of my co-workers would merge break times with the meal half-hour and take naps in the middle of their shifts. That worked out well for them, since they’d find a quiet, dark spot somewhere in the building (often on a different floor), stretch out/curl up — and fall into a deep slumber. As the shift supervisor, I’d notice that folks were 20 or 30 minutes late returning from their breaks and have to search the building for them. Talk about “power napping” — this was full-on, making-up-for-what-I’m-missing-because-I’m-working-two-jobs slumber. I only tried to nap once while at work — waking up sluggish and grumpy, as usual — so substituted laps around the floor in place of sleep. Not so much sleep-walking as sleepy-walking. Sometimes folks would pair up during nap time and I’d have to… well, that’s another blog post entirely.
As Warren Zevon sang, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” (He’s been sleeping soundly for about a decade now, I believe.) He was referring to a life of drinking, drugging and general excess. While I may have indulged in one or two of those vices in my past, currently my motto is “I’ll sleep when I’m ready — DAMN! I missed my moment. Well, at least I’ve got Lennie Briscoe’s wisecracking to keep me company.”