I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point (during high school, or maybe it was college?), I lost my ability to sleep in. Lazy, 12 p.m. Sundays? Gone. Poof. Vanished. And in their lusciously slow-paced wake, a jolting eyes-popping-open-at-the-crack-of-dawn aftermath I haven't been able to shake since. As I said, I have no legitimate explanation, but when people ask me (slash look at me like I'm an alien), I generally say 7:30 a.m. college classes served as a twisted, Pavlovian kind of conditioning: wake up early, get shit done, rinse, and repeat. But in reality, I don't know if that's the truth of it. Ever since I can remember, my parents have been early risers (think 6 or 7 a.m. on the dot every single day), and sometimes I wonder if I've simply manifested some mutant kind of sleep-deprivation gene. That's a thing, right?
Most of the time, people have one of two reactions when they find out I can't sleep in past 5:30, 6:30, or tops 8 a.m.— even on the weekends and even if I've been out past 2 a.m. (In fact, my roommates and I have always had an understanding that if I haven't emerged from my room by 9 a.m., they have a free pass to call the authorities. Kidding. Kind of). But back to people's reactions.
Reaction one: Eyes bulge, tongues hang out, and there's a general look of distrust that befalls people's expressions. Translation: You're certifiably weird, and I need to get away from you as soon as possible before it catches.
Reaction two: People act amazed, commend my ability to wake up and be productive and want to know how I do it. The thing is, most of the time I don't mind and actually enjoy waking up before the birds, running errands before the late-rising population of L.A., or getting a head start on my to-do list for the day. The one hitch: I'm exhausted. I'm tired. And my inability to sleep in is starting to show and even negatively impact my life and health. For one, my body thinks I'm 52 years old, and recently I was also diagnosed with PCOS, which has some nasty side effects only exacerbated by my lack of sleep and consistent stress levels. (Or so says my gynecologist.)
Since I wake up early, I should be going to bed early. Except, of course, I don't. Instead of succumbing to my exhaustion, I have a less-than-stellar track record of encouraging my lack of sleep further by going to bed late—diving deep into group texts, scrolling through Instagram, or imbibing a hearty Hulu binge. Then, once I do pass out, in four to five hours, I'm up and back at it—a vicious (kind-of-toxic) cycle that's left me feeling depleted, crabby, and all around not like myself—not good.
So when wellness editor Victoria Hoff proposed this month as the opportunity for our editorial team to challenge (and hopefully break) a bad habit, banishing my morning wake-up call sounded like a good idea—and provided an interesting juxtaposition to the more common practice of hitting the snooze button (I'm not sure if I ever have). That being said, during the workweek, I can't exactly peace out and cry writing experiment as an excuse for missing meetings or deadlines. So when I headed back home to Minnesota for a short vacation last week to see my family, I used it as the perfect excuse to shut off my alarm and try my best to sleep in for three days. Keep scrolling to see how it went.
Did not go well. Which, to be fair, could have been due to the time change from L.A. to Minnesota. Essentially, I went to bed around 1:30 a.m. Minnesota time (11:30 p.m. L.A. time) and proceeded to wake up naturally (per usual, I almost always jump my alarm clock's gun) at, get this, 5:30 a.m. Minnesota time (3:30 a.m. L.A.). So yes, my total sleep log was roughly four hours, and to say I felt worse for wear the next day would be an understatement. Although, I did, at least, take advantage of the extra time in the morning to squeeze in a workout and rocket off some emails before my family headed out for a separate branch of our trip which would be service- and WiFi-less. A scary thought—eek—but perhaps good for my scatter-brained, sleep-deprived soul? I was ready to find out.
Went sufficiently better. The night before, I had been up until about midnight (again, not the best, I know), but instead of waking up at 7 a.m. or earlier, I grudgingly woke up in my hotel room around 9 a.m. And only, mind you, due to my mom pretty much applying physical force to nudge my body to rise so we wouldn't miss our breakfast plans.
I almost always hop out of bed, but that morning, I could barely drag myself to the bathroom to get ready, and even copious amounts of coffee couldn't perk me up. It was as if my body realized what it had been missing and was in denial that it had to wake up—ever again. Basically, I felt drugged by way of ample sleep. Curious, as nine hours is probably what my body needs every night.
Ah, finally—a middle ground. The night before, I went to bed around midnight (apparently I just can't learn, but in my defense, my parents proved to have a stacked itinerary with outings and shows my entire time home), and the next morning, I woke up around 7 a.m. Which, granted, is still early, but a marketable improvement compared to 5 or 6 a.m. Honestly, I could have slept longer but forced myself to rise in order to tackle some things on my to-do list so I'd be able to spend quality time with my family before heading back to L.A. the next morning. Overall though, this was the day I felt like my best self since beginning the three-day experiment.
The following day, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. (early flight), and the week since has been busy. In other words, I've reverted to my old habits. But if I've learned anything, it's that if I psychologically allow myself to sleep in and encourage a mental mindset where I tell myself it's okay to log a few extra hours of sleep, my body does know what to do. Naturally, it will do its best to make up for my TV binges and late-night texting threads, and now it's just up to me to give in to that opportunity more frequently than I'm used to. Therefore, I would dub my "habit" of not sleeping in a work in progress with a hopeful (less sleep-deprived) light at the end of the tunnel. Wish me luck.