It seems like everywhere I look, especially this time of year, I see someone trying to convince me that waking up early is some kind of magic cure for everything from inertia to, oh, I don’t know, Global Warming?
There’s even a whole trendy, bestselling book on the subject.
I’ve personally had “wake up at 5 a.m. every morning” on my New Year’s Resolution list many times over the years.
But, ever since my move from Nevada to Pennsylvania in November, I’ve been doing something that really has been life changing.
After a lifetime of waking up with the sun (or before), even when I didn’t absolutely have to, I’ve been sleeping in.
I think it’s a combination of things that’s led to this phenomena.
I’m a desert girl who has moved to the land of constant overcast. Everyone thought it was hilarious to tell me how cold I was going to be and tease me about drowning in lake effect snow. No one bothered to let me know that in the winter (I really hope it’s only in the winter), Northwestern PA is covered with a pot lid of deep overcast. It’s not even clouds. Just a layer of gauze that blocks the sun.
Without the sun, my body seems to think there’s no reason to wake up.
Also, we moved to a house that’s a five minute walk from my daughter’s middle school. For the first time in two decades, I don’t have to drive anyone to school in the morning. And she’s fourteen, which means she’s old enough to pour her own Cheerios and brush her own hair.
I wake up long enough to make sure she’s awake, and then she gets herself ready and out the door without me.
It isn’t always fun when your youngest baby gets old enough to not need you anymore, but in this case it means that I don’t have to get out of bed at 6 a.m. Or 5 a .m. if I’m on a ‘wake up an hour before your kids’ kick.
I have an Echo Dot in my bedroom. She has one in hers. I tell Alexa to “drop in on Ruby” and she opens a . . . I don’t know, it feels like some kind of magical portal directly into my kid’s bedroom. I can make sure Ruby’s up without having to get out of my warm bed.
Did I mention the cold? It’s fucking cold in Pennsylvania. Like wet, bone-chilling cold. Everyone around me is all excited because we’re apparently having a very mild, non-snowy winter so far. Meanwhile I’m dressed like a yeti, even indoors.
And one more thing. I got a new bed. We left our bed — which I bought before Kevin and I were married — when we moved. It was used when I got it, because I was a single mom and dropping hundreds of dollars on a mattress was a big no. That bed was at least twenty years old.
The new one? It’s like sleeping on clouds. Warm clouds, wrapped in a down comforter of more clouds, in a room that only ever gets soft light that’s filtered through layers of more clouds.
After a lifetime of feeling like I’d wasted half my day if I wasn’t up by six and productive almost instantly — I’ve been waking up closer to nine. Maybe even ten. (Except for the brief Magic Portal conversation with my daughter and a sleepy goodbye when she leaves.)
I’m aware of some distinct privileges I enjoy. I don’t have to be at the local middle school for pre-algebra class at 8 a.m. I’m self-employed and no one is expecting me to punch a clock for my 9 a.m. shift. At this stage in my life, I don’t have a compelling outside reason to make myself wake up early.
But what I didn’t know, and what maybe you don’t either, is that sleeping later is glorious. You’d think, from all the gurus trying to make you wake up an hour earlier than everyone in your house or before the freaking sun to commune with the Universe or whatever that waking up earlier than necessary was essential to general well being.
But for me, it’s not. I’m a morning person. I suspect I always will be. My creative flow is best early in the day. I still am a morning person. It just turns out that waking up naturally, later in the morning, facilitates that flow.
Sleeping in has not turned me into a night owl who doesn’t really come alive until after dark. It has made me a better morning glory.
My brain works, right from the minute I open my eyes. I don’t need a cold shower or a pot of coffee to kickstart it. (Who knew. Brains work on sleep.)
I’m in a better mood than I have been in years. You know that old saying about how if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy? There’s less arguing, less resentment, less of all kinds of negative bugaboos, because I’m less cranky.
I live with and take care of my adult son who has autism and my husband’s parents who both have dementia. His father has Alzheimer’s and his mother has vascular dementia. I work from home.
I work from a home filled with people who require a lot from me.
My life requires an extraordinary amount of patience. It’s not a bad thing. I am grateful that I can care for these people I love. But patience is like the hallmark of my life.
And I have way more of it when I sleep in.
I’m working more efficiently and more smoothly than I think I ever have. I’ve always had this problem where my brain just kind of turns off at about 3 p.m. I can’t write in the afternoons or evenings.
Turns out that isn’t some built-in quirk. If I’m awake and going at 5 or 6 in the morning, operating mostly on caffeine and gumption, then it makes sense I’ve run out of gas by the afternoon. More sleep means that I don’t have to rush to get all my work done before my 3 p.m. slump hits.
In fact, that slump seems to have left the building. My energy is more even. I still do my best creative work in the morning, but I’m not half dead by late afternoon anymore.
So, you’re not privileged.
Like I said, I don’t have an outside force requiring me to wake up more than what’s required to get my teenaged daughter upright in the morning, which I can do without getting out of bed.
If you don’t have that privilege, I think you can still gain some of the benefits I’m talking about. You just have to come at it from the other end.
I’m sleeping eight or nine hours a night and waking up naturally, instead of six and being violently yanked out of sleep by an alarm clock.
So think about what time you have to be up in the morning, count back eight hours, and make that your bedtime. Yes. I’m aware that means a 10 p.m. bedtime if you have to be up at 6 a.m.
If you have kids, you probably are used to making other people go to bed on time, so that they get enough sleep. Do the same thing for yourself.
Try it. Work your way to it, if you have to. I think you’ll find that most days, giving up whatever late night things were keeping you up is worth the intense benefits you’ll gain by getting enough sleep.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.