To Sleep, Perchance

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sleep affects health, function, and well-being

One of the biggest things I look forward to when I retire is to revert to my natural sleep pattern. I am a night owl who has been working days for over 30 continuous years now. This may be the usual thing for most people, but for about a quarter of us, it’s not healthy.  It’s not the way we’re built.

Your sleep pattern is part of you.

From the time I was little, it always seemed to me I was supposed to be on a planet with a 27 hour day.  It was always hard to go to sleep at night. I stayed up late as I could watching TV, and when I was finally sent to bed I would read there.

Then morning came too early, and school with it.

For some reason, our elementary teachers always started the day with arithmetic. I wasn’t awake for it so I did poorly for years. What I learned about numbers was that I couldn’t do them.  My father, bless him, got me an abacus and taught me enough to get by.  I taught myself math out of a calculator handbook when I was 25. On a series of summer afternoons.  Turns out it wasn’t all that hard, with a calculator and a decent sleep.

The Army way.

Instead of going to college right away after high school, I ended up in the Army. Those green people were insane. They got us up at 5 AM just because they could.

We had physical training of a sort. There were push-ups, of which I did ten total in my eight weeks of basic, and there was a six hundred yard “run/walk” which meant you went 600 yards in under 2 minutes 50 seconds any way you could. My first recorded time was 2 minutes 45 seconds. By the end of basic I barely made it at 2 minutes 49 seconds.  So much for improving over time.

It was a good thing my name was on my clothes.  That way I could remember who I was.

After basic, I went to language school in California. That started at 8 AM.  I wasn’t fully awake for the recitation of the memorized dialogue each morning. Instead I sort of dreamed it up as I went, having gotten the gist of it at breakfast. I still couldn’t sleep till late at night.  What they tell you about foreign languages is true, by the way.  They’re easier when you are drunk…or asleep, as it turns out.

At tech school, we were on double sessions so it was school from 6 AM till noon.  I remember nothing of the training except it was a big secret.  Our notebooks got locked in a vault.   I got so tired I couldn’t wake up for the alarm if I had to walk to it. I could turn it off, though, and go back to bed without waking up.

When I went to Europe and worked it was on rotating shifts. The three to eleven shift was best for me but it only lasted 6 days, and 48 hours later I was working 11 to 7 AM, and at the end of a similar timeframe, back to days. Still, the dreaded day schedule was only a third of my life and I loved shift work.

Back in the world…

With the exception of my four years or so in industry doing maintenance work on my beloved 3 to 11 PM, I’ve been slogging along getting up early and being unable to sleep long enough to sustain myself. I’d sleep in on weekends and be up all Sunday night. Rinse and repeat for over 30 years.

Health concerns

When a person is forced to do something that she is physically not suited to do, she adapts.  Or not.  In industry, I worked around very large machinery that took very large tools.  We had monkey wrenches 3 feet long.  When I first went to pick one up off the floor I used two hands and performed safe lifting.  But after several weeks, I could snag one off the floor one-handed without breaking my stride.  The organism adapted.

With two alarm clocks to get me up,  I worry at night that I will sleep through them, so I wake up to check the time a lot.  I have not been late to work that I can remember.  So the organism adapted.

But did it?

Not really.  Night owls also are more likely to have depression.  That’s not fun at all, and I’ve been through several bouts of it.  Three quarters of the medication I take allow me to walk among humans.

And I have had cancer already.  Did you know that certain kinds of cancer are associated with poor sleep and sleep deprivation?  My kind was one.  Fortunately I had a sharp doctor who caught it early.

In my mother’s family there is a lot of cancer, particularly among the women, who also were prone to depression.  Like being a night owl, these predispositions can be inherited.

But wait–there’s more.  My father used to doze off in the middle of a conversation beginning in his 50s.  I find myself nodding off at work after lunch.  It’s particularly embarrassing when I am listening to someone.  It’s a bit dicey when I’m driving, too.

So if I make it to retirement…

My dream of retirement starts off with reverting to a more natural-to-me sleep pattern.  I can get up at 6 and do laundry, having been trained by a cat who wanted to eat at 6.  But I need to go back to sleep by 8 to get rid of the poisoned feeling of not sleeping enough.

This would let me stay up evenings, when I feel up to thinking, and allow me to do things that require thought instead of rushing through them on the way to a futile toss-and-turn.

Did I mention my dear husband, who is already retired, keeps a night owl schedule?  It came in handy when we had satellite Internet service, because he could download movies free of data limits between midnight and 5 AM.  We could be on the same schedule again!

So, unless I have some kind of appointment or meeting that day people insist on having in the morning, I plan to get some good sleep in retirement.  No more dozing off at the wheel or while listening to someone.  No more faking and rushing through things I ought to pay attention to.  A marked reduction in anxiety about time.

I think I can live with that.

How about you?   Are you a lucky day person?  A night owl?  How does that affect your thoughts about retirement?


A night owl's look at sleep, and how sleep patterns affect health and quality of life, looking forward to sleeping more naturally in retirementA night owl's look at sleep, and how sleep patterns affect health and quality of life, looking forward to sleeping more naturally in retirementA night owl's look at sleep, and how sleep patterns affect health and quality of life, looking forward to sleeping more naturally in retirement







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