The Differently Awake

Like most people, I fit into several different minority groups; in this age of subdividing society from every possible direction, the number of people who feel entirely embedded within the majority in every aspect of life is very small indeed (and this should, of course, qualify them as a minority group in itself – the “totally well-adjusted”, perhaps. Poor things.)

Yet the trait which causes me the most acute feelings of not belonging is hardly ever mentioned. Is it, I ask myself sometimes late at night, just me? Can it be that I am the only one with this problem? I don’t think so. Here it is: my biological clock is out of synch. My natural bedtime is somewhere around 2am, and left to my own devices I’ll wake up around 10:30am. If I’m busy, I’ll work later and wake up later. Most of my book was written between midnight and 6am. Virtually none of it before noon.

It has been like this since basically forever, as far as I can recall. As a teenager I’d read or play music until extremely late, force myself to go to sleep, then a few hours later stumble out of bed for a morning routine of five minutes (dress, toilet, run out of house to catch bus, fall asleep on the way to school). Doing shift work, I’d go for the night shifts every time, and never felt tired doing them. As a uni student, studying for exams was strictly night work. And so on.

I hate this. I hate being woken up at 9:30am by the bustle of everyday life, cars in the street, workmen outside the window, telephone calls. I hate the deadening drowsiness that envelopes me whenever I have to get up at a “proper” time, the way my wife has to tear me out of bed in order to help her with the morning chores, I hate having to tiptoe noiselessly to the kitchen to make myself something to eat when taking a break at 3am because everyone around me is asleep and I’m a weird, vampirish freak. I hate it when my friends and acquaintances say “I hope I didn’t wake you up” when telephoning me at 1pm, because they know there’s just no way of knowing whether or not I’m asleep at any given time.I hate not fitting in.

And I have tried. I have striven mightily to adjust. I have tried multiple alarm clocks, showers, exercise, asking my wife to shout at me, having a really tempting breakfast waiting for me. I’ve tried going to sleep early, late, not at all; anything to try and force my biological clock to straighten itself out. Nothing worked. I even tried moving to Australia in order to confuse it, but the bastard just adjusted itself to the local time and went right ahead with its old routine. I have not tried cigarettes and coffee, because I can’t stand them; I have read that people like me have a higher risk of being addicted to these two morning stimulants, and it’s theorised that it’s because they help us kick our bodies into wakefulness at these wretched morning hours.

Some of you may think I’m just not disciplined enough, or whatever. I might be. I won’t deny the possibility. But it goes deeper than just a lazy slob unwilling to hop out of bed and go do an honest day’s work. I can go to sleep at 4 in the morning and wake up at 11 sharp as a tack, but for me 7am is the middle of the night; try getting up at 3am for a week or two and you will, perhaps, understand us better.

I probably should have settled for a life of either regular night shifts (truckie? Security guard? Late shift newspaper editor?) or a bohemian, artistic life wherein the workday begins when onstage at 9pm, ends around midnight, and then a late night out with the crowd. You’re allowed to sleep in when you’re visibly at work in the evenings, I reckon. But I’m not. I just type on a computer keyboard, and people who type on keyboards late at night are obviously up to no good. I envy morning people. The early risers, the 6am-joggers, the relaxed breakfasters reading the morning paper with 20 min to go before hopping on the 8:20 train to work. Their lives are so neat and tidy; mine, an ill-adjusted scramble. And I reserve some extra-special resentment for the people who consider “staying out late” to be a form of entertainment: “Ooh, I was out till so late Sunday night. You should have seen me arrive at the office on Monday.” Grr.

We the Differently Awake are not actively discriminated against, but society is organised along strict Morningist lines. Perhaps we should organise: We’ll call ourselves OWLS (OverWhelmingly Late Sleepers-in) have meetings (“The Darebin Sleeper Cell meets Tuesdays, 1am at the local Community Centre”), and hold all-night rallies until our demands our met: Issuing of special disability cards that will allow us priority seating on public transport before 10am (so we can snooze en route to the office), discounts on earplugs, ultra-flexitime, and mandatory no-chainsaw-or-leafblower-before-noon laws in heavily OWLish areas. Who’s with me?!

Ah, it won’t work. There will not be, cannot be, a rallying cry for us rise’n’shiningly-challenged, because the one thing we abhor above all else is the wakeup call.

But to end on a happy note: Lately, things are improving a little, at least for me personally. There’s something about an angelic baby crawling up one’s slumbering heap of a body, emitting merry giggles and attempting to joyfully claw one’s eyes out that just won’t let one roll over and resnore. My son is proving to be quite the early riser; perhaps therein my ultimate salvation lies.

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