No use sleeping it off
Making a case for the habits of a night-owl
Gabe Kahn is the editor of The New Jersey Jewish News.
You’ll have to excuse me. This column is a bit of a work in progress.
It’s not that I haven’t settled on a topic or don’t know where it’s going, which are more common challenges.
Rather, it’s the time when I’m working on it. When I type these words it will be 6:46 a.m. Actually 6:47, by now. The mere fact that I’m awake is just short of a modern-day miracle.
You see, I’m an extreme version of a night owl. Whereas most people stop being productive around 7 or 8 p.m., I rarely get started until 11:30 or so. It’s then that the distractions stop — everyone in my family is asleep, the constant barrage of emails slow down to a crawl, and there’s nothing good to watch on TV, with even the late-ending West Coast NBA games mostly decided.
I’ve always found it difficult to shut down when my batteries are still juiced. It’s not just about outlasting the day-time interruptions. As it happens, I am also a chronic procrastinator, and I find it hard to get anything done without a solid deadline to scare the daylights out of me — or maybe scare me because of the approaching daylight. A stack of bills on the kitchen table? They’re not due until next week. A sink full of dishes? I’ll wash them later. Get started on my column? Right after I finish reading this important story on Ariana Grande’s latest song about her ex, Pete Davidson. In fact, one of the reasons I’m drawn to journalism is the deadlines; putting off until tomorrow isn’t an option when the printer demands we submit every page by 7 Tuesday evening or our readers will be deprived of the latest edition of NJJN.
It helps that my energy level picks up as the night goes on. Instead of getting ready for bed when I complete all my chores, I find myself looking for more so I have an excuse to stay up. I also find that my creativity is strongest after midnight, as is my desire to get work done. It’s not unusual for me to start writing an article around 1 a.m. so as not to forget an idea, and then get so wrapped up that I’m still writing three hours later. I’m like the three sages, maybe not as wise, who discuss the Exodus from Egypt during the seder until their students have to remind them to say the morning Shema prayer.
And no, I don’t suffer from insomnia. Not even close. I can fall asleep whenever I want and wherever I am, and I stay that way long after my alarm blares at 7 the next morning — in fact, I wouldn’t even know to turn it off without several well-placed kicks to the midside by my wife, who transforms into a Kung-Fu master when I refuse to emerge from my deep state of unconsciousness. I like sleeping, and I’m darn good at it, too.
My nocturnal nature isn’t a result of age, either. Even in high school my older siblings had bedtimes, but rules are more lax (READ: nonexistent) by the time child number four comes of age, and when they went to bed, my parents would only ask that I not stay up too late, fully aware that their request would be denied. Though they realized that each word of a term paper would be typed during the all-nighter in the hours before it was due, they never gave up trying to change my sleepless ways. They’re still hoping.
I’m like the three sages who discuss the Exodus from Egypt
during the seder until their students remind them to say the
morning Shema prayer.
My late-night habits can get lonely without anyone else to talk to for several hours, which is why Shavuot was my favorite holiday during my teenage years. It is customary on the first night of Shavuot to learn Torah until dawn to commemorate God’s giving the Jewish people the Bible. My friends and I would gather at our synagogue, and even though they would be nodding off, I loved having people to hang out with — admittedly, learning Torah took a back seat to talking — at 3 in the morning for a change.
Years ago I remember Andy Rooney ranting about the six to eight hours of sleep each night most medical experts recommend. Health benefits be damned, the cantankerous but somehow lovable Rooney refused to sleep more than six, not wanting to waste additional time he could use to be productive.
That’s how I feel. My days are packed with work, family, working out, and other responsibilities. I’m blessed to be able to function reasonably well with as little as three hours of sleep (at least with the assistance of copious amounts of coffee and Coke Zero), so why not use the extra time to unwind without the pressures of life getting in my way?
There are drawbacks, of course. I cringe at every new study that shows up in my news feed confirming the long-term damage of sleeping too little. The refrain “You can sleep when you’re dead” could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy (I console myself with the knowledge that Rooney lived until he was 92). And as I mentioned, waking me up is a Herculean task, and I’ve long wished I could drag myself out of bed to get to synagogue for morning prayers. As it is, I can barely get up with enough time to get the kids to the bus.
But, uncharacteristically, I got tired last night and went to sleep at 11 p.m. without writing my column, hence the early hour I converse with you this morning. Perhaps this will be the start of a trend, a new me who awakens at the crack of dawn and gets moving when science tells us we’re at our best, rather than the time when our brains should power down.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to bed.