Sometimes I feel I’m a ‘clock mutant’, like some laboratory raised fruit fly, rhythms all off and shunning the light of day vampirically. I was never a good sleeper as a child considering my level of anxiety and my propensity to have vividly horrific dreams. My religious upbringing also filled me with dread and guilt as I lay awake in bed, and that one time a mouse ran across my fingers when my hand had slipped over the mattress and onto the floor really didn’t help. I’ll admit, a part of me is always fighting that inner scared-little-boy off.
Still, I was a schoolkid and I had schoolkid hours, so I had to sleep through a rough approximation of the night. Summer vacations were a different story since my parents weren’t very interested in keeping super strict bedtimes, but in essence, I was still a day person for the most part despite the flashlight-under-the-sheets reading that enough folks are familiar with.
College certainly pushed me to living in darkness when it occurred to me that my professors in the English department must have been night owls themselves. For multiple semesters I was able to schedule myself into late morning classes almost exclusively, and my changes into a nocturnal creature were beginning to manifest. If I saw 8 o’clock on any given day, it was largely because I hadn’t slept yet.
After college, there was a blip of a year where I worked 9-to-5, and then I started working at a wire service at their global desk where my hours became 3 pm to 11 pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays. This made it difficult to keep up socially with non-work friends, so most of us, being young and somewhat alcoholic, ended up carousing in the Manhattan bars from just after work until the wee hours of the morning with an alarming consistency. Such lifestyles may not change me genetically (regardless of how much I smoked and drank), but certain physical alterations were noticeable: pale skin, dark circles under eyes, a hideous hunger for human blood, and yawning.
I left the wire business for a little while and ended up in Internet startups and one massive financial firm where hours were normal, though I was the classic coffee addict from my lack of slumber. After the economy went to one of its many little hells between 2000 and now, I had to go back to work at the wire service, but this time on a graveyard shift from 10 pm to 8 am, four nights on and four nights off. Cop hours, someone said in comparison to me once. This went on for two years and nearly broke me. When the strippers from the club downstairs from the office were getting something to eat as their shifts were ending, I was grabbing lunch. Folks who were around me at the time would tell me I was often distant or incoherent in their presence during the few times I’d see them during my off-days, and my health certainly deteriorated due to the supremely poor diet and an over-reliance on caffeine. I was a mess, and not always a good person to be around.
I would almost have to say I’m still paying for that time, despite multiple jobs with typical hours since then. I’ve always had exceptional difficulty getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and my work has probably suffered for it. My current job, which is coming to a close, was set up for me to be on West Coast hours, so I’ve managed to maintain a sleeping schedule that reinforced this issue. I’m a creature of the night now, probably with little chance that I’d ever be a true morning person, something I’ll have to cope with at whatever comes next I imagine. In fact, I’m writing this at 3 am Eastern Time on a Monday morning when most everyone I know is still fast asleep. I hope they’re having wonderful dreams.