Precious Zs

Is it strange that I think a lot about sleep? I think I am abnormally and disruptively obsessed with how much shut-eye I get. Not in an I-need-eight-hours kind of way, but rather in an I-need-to-plan-to-get-eight-hours sense. I see the clock in eight hour intervals, not twelve, and I see them surrounded by red zones. You know, if I don’t fall asleep IMMEDIATELY, then there’s no way I will get a enough sleep before I have to wake up for work (flight, meeting, kickoff, whatever). If I have to be there at X tomorrow, then I need to get up by Y, so I have to be ASLEEP by Z. It’s all very mathematical, and any deviance from the equation… well… makes me lose sleep.

The funny thing is, I haven’t had eight hours of sleep in… say… forever. At least not that I recall, so I’m not really sure why I hold that magical number in such high regard. I’m certain I haven’t always been as aware of the deficiency, though I distinctly remember standing in the second floor copy room in Hogate at Lawrenceville, in all of my pregnant glory, and being told by somebody that I should prepare myself for NOT having a full night’s sleep for twenty years. Or was it forever? Regardless, it felt ominous then, and now I know that warning was the real deal.

I do think it’s rude that no one told me that when I finally moved out of the 24/7- ready-for-anything-at-any-time parenting mode, I would move unceremoniously into mid-life, where as far as I can tell, never getting a good night’s sleep is par for the course. There’s the fact that my bladder seems to have a decreasing amount of patience and that the joint stiffness startles me awake from deep slumber just to be sure I know that my arm/leg/hand is totally numb. And on top of those physiological cattle prods, the disruptive effects of sunlight, noise, movement, device-charging lights, and lack of air flow all conspire to ensure I wake up every couple of hours.

Dang you, fantasy of eight hours! And while I’m at it, dang you, 11:11, for your screaming ever-presence, and you, 8:08, for making me watch as you demonstrate that you use the most segments on a digital clock! (Is it normal to have conversations with your clock and to curse it for tracking your unrest?)

Old tricks don’t seem to do their things either anymore. Whether it’s physically exhausting myself, not eating red meat before bedtime, getting drunk, and even downing sleep-aids, none of the tried-and-true strategies for tricking myself into sleep work. And it’s getting worse. Ever gone to sleep at 9pm only to wake up from what you think is a full night’s sleep and see 11:00pm on the clock? Once upon a time that was good news: six more hours to sleep! Yay! Now I just get annoyed that I can’t go for more than a two hour stretch without waking up.

So, I do my pee thing, and then I hope beyond hope that I’ll be able to drift quickly back into slumberville. Of course, being able to do that is an act of god: wake up, get up, walk to the bathroom, pee, walk back to bed, and then pick up where I left off. Seems non-disruptive enough, but for me, it’s all very tenuous. One false move – a bright light, a loud flush, or a stubbed toe in the darkness – and bam! I’m definitively awake, head spinning as I watch the clock entering into the red zone.

Mother Nature clearly doesn’t think I need less sleep the older I get. She knows that even if my body is winding down from years in its developing stage that it’s no longer about short term recovery. It’s about resting my vessel as it makes its way down the path of old age. I do feel consistently tireder throughout the day and naps are my BFF. So, why won’t she allow me to just claim stockpiles of the uninterrupted sleep that I have sacrificed along the way?

Or maybe I’m just thinking about this this whole situation the wrong way. Maybe my sleeplessness is not about Mother Nature at all or about bright lights or even noise. Maybe it’s about something entirely more wholesale, like what sleeping means to me. Jim would say that sleeping is “taking a vacation from life,” that it’s a time when we get to totally check out and focus on ourselves.

Wait. I am not allowed to ever completely check out, am I?

When I moved to Hawai‘i, I started letting myself wake up for good really early, like between 3:00am and 4:00am. I like to say that I’ve never fully adjusted to the time zone, but the truth is, I’ve never been one of those people that slept and slept and slept. I have never felt comfortable totally checking out, or taking a vacation, as it were. Growing up, there were friends to think about, teachers to impress, and parents to obey. I certainly had the time in college, but there was always an assignment work on, a party to plan for, or a relationship to worry about. Since then there’s been making smart parenting decisions, delivering at work, and managing more relationships. How do I take a vacation from all that? People are counting on me!

Yeah, right. Let’s be real. It ain’t about people’s counting on me. I just don’t want to let anyone down.

Case in point, and while we’re on the subject of sleep, I also make it my business to worry about other people’s eight hours. Every morning I ask Jim, “How’d you sleep?” Ditto Ellie. And if I’m honest, it’s not because I want to know if they caught enough Zs. I really just want to know whether I have provided them an environment where they feel like they can really check out. Provided them an environment? WTF? Why do I do this to myself when I know, first hand, that the greatest contributor to sleeplessness is what goes on in your own head? That no 800 thread count sheets are going to give you the permission you need to take a vacation from life?

Shit. Is this really what all these two hour sleep stints are all about…my inability not to be en garde to fend off the potential for other people’s disappointment? Even I know how absolutely ridiculous that sounds, much less is. I can’t control other people’s personal feelings of satisfaction, and, lord knows, it certainly is not worth losing sleep over worrying about it.

So, with this new wisdom, I am going to pay attention to what my waking up really means. No blaming Mother Nature. No excuses about less than ideal conditions. Just awareness. I’m going to be okay with rising early every morning, sitting outside in the warmth of a tropical climate, surrounding myself in darkness and clear starry skies, and listening to the music of the palm fronds as they dance to the beat of the trade winds. Okay with it? It’s my vacation from life, only while I’m awake. Maybe if I let myself enjoy it, I’ll be one step closer to vacationing while sleep.

Is it nap time yet?


To read more about our Tiny House project, view a gallery of progress photos, and join me in my musings, take a wander around my website