Monday, September 7, 2009

‘What light through yonder window breaks?’ On getting up and going to bed early

I’m a naughty stubborn contrarian from way back. It took a good fifteen years for me to get off caffeine even though it was giving me panic attacks and shocking blood sugar problems. Going against the demands and needs of my body has come ‘naturally’ to me for years, but I’ve tried hard to change and to start listening to myself.

For the last five years I’ve been living in a noise-afflicted house that has kept me in a constant state of sleep deprivation (note the victim mentality evident in the words ‘kept me’). I’ve tried every sort of ear plug on the market and sometimes even wear clunky headphones in bed if things get really bad.

The night noises that have assailed me at various times include a distressed dog who yelps frantically whenever its owner leaves it alone in the house (steps have been taken and now the yelps are confined to working hours), trams that whine and clatter full pelt down the hill until midnight and beyond, weekend hoons blasting up and down the busy street I live on, a constant low-frequency hum whose source I’ve never been able to identify, and European washing machines reaching an orgasmic frenzy of spinning before finally subsiding to an exhausted clunk.

Rather than getting used to these noises, in some ways I’ve grown more sensitive to them (the exception is routine traffic noise: at the level I can hear it with ear plugs on, it’s almost soothing).

Until recently, the neighbours with the dog ran their washing machine, dryers and so on up until 11-11.30 pm, and crashed and banged as they were getting ready for bed around that time. It got to the point where going to bed after them was preferable to lying in the dark awake and bathed in hot fury. But they’ve quietened down lately (the note I dropped into the letterbox about the dog – not the first time I’d complained – also contained a polite request to run appliances only between the hours of 10 am and 10 pm, and it seems to have worked!).

So finally, finally, I am obeying the rhythms of my body and going to bed when it wants me to, namely, before 10.45 pm (actually I think it wants me in bed by 9.30, but that’s a bit extreme).

My body clock is a ruthless disciplinarian who takes no prisoners when it comes to sleeping patterns. When I was going to bed between 11.30 and midnight, it would still wake me up at about 6, often earlier. But this was during the winter months. Now that the earth’s drawing closer to the sun, my sensitive biorhythms alert my hypothalamus to start rousing me at about 3 or 3.30 am, and I routinely wake up more or less fully at about 4.30 am. I’m alert, with cortisol coursing through my body, but also tired because I haven’t had enough sleep. I lie there moving in and out of a light, inadequate doze until about 7 am.

But I’m not really complaining. It’s impossible to explain how right it feels to be going to bed a bit earlier, even if I’m still sleep deprived. I have more energy, more life force. I’m more in tune with myself. I even notice the extra energy when I’m trotting off to bed. Even at the end of a busy day, I’m not dragging myself around exhaustedly the way I used to.

I’m working a bit more at the moment and struggling to get the practical things done that I’m so neurotic about. Last Saturday I got up early so as to be able to wash my car before the weekend queue had set in at the local car wash. By the time I got there it was already 8.45 am, but I’d never been at the car wash that early before, and I enjoyed the pale yellow sun glinting on the lights and the stainless steel as I scrubbed. The freshness of early morning was still in the air, the traffic was lighter, the air cleaner and cooler. It felt so right to be there at that time.

So now, with a bit less darkness available every night, I have to work up to going to bed earlier still. Bed time has been, since my transformation, anywhere between 10.30 pm and 10.45 pm. But it has to become even earlier still if I’m to beat the sun. I’m now aiming for 10 pm.

The sticking point is my beloved tele watching. To wind down at night, I like to have time enough to read but also time to watch a bit of tiv. It’s my link to the wider world, and it takes me out of my own head. It’s my treat at the end of a long day at the computer. I wouldn’t want to give it up completely, even if I could. But I’m going to have to cut down, and that’s a discipline I’ll struggle with.

Eating and dishes will also have to be disposed of earlier – no more Phillip Adams on the radio as my hands paddle around in soapy hot water.

It’s going to be tough but it will add a whole new dimension to my life. With more sleep I’ll be stronger and more present, there’ll be more of me. And the mornings will be mine, for writing, reading and working. Evenings will be shorter, but I’ll stop work earlier to wind down. And at night, when I slide into the waiting sheets, sleep, precious sleep, will claim me.

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