Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sarah Van Winkle

When I was in college, I fell asleep in class so much that I literally could take notes while dozing off.  The notes usually weren't all that coherent.  One time I woke up to find the words "green" and "God" scrawled in the mix of more economic/math-y words.  Um.. my subconscious is spiritual and artistic?  The only time that my sleeping habit was mildly embarrassing, was when during a night class when the lights were off for slides (equals zero percent chance anyone would stay awake), the teacher spoke directly to me in answer to a question I'd asked earlier in class.  I don't think he really noticed or cared that I was asleep, but it was just not fun to wake up to the professor saying, "Sarah, this is the answer to your earlier question."  Another time, I startled myself so much once I woke up that my immediate reaction was to raise my hand up in the air as if to ask a question.  I think the professor's back was turned so it was just the kids sitting next to me who thought I was a weirdo.  Maybe my hand-in-the-air reaction is more of an insight into how much I liked to talk to my teachers, and ask questions, and that they all actually knew my name, but that's another topic for another day.

The thing is, this sleeping habit was not only restricted to class.  I basically fell asleep any time I was sitting down and not actively engaging: Sunday sermons, car rides (while riding, never driving), movie theaters, etc.  My friends were both amused and amazed at my ability to sleep anywhere.  But guys, I have had a revelation in the past couple years: that was not normal - I have just been sleep deprived my whole life.

I started my daily coffee habit one semester of college when I had an 8 am multi-variable calculus class every day, and a few years later was already so dependent on caffeine that I would get headaches when I didn't have a cup in the afternoons as well.  I worked hard in college, but still was really social, involved in sports, part-time jobs or other extracurriculars, meaning I rarely made it to bed before midnight and usually was up by 7.  Many nights 1-3am was a more typical bedtime. 

Post-college, I got a job in DC, commuted an hour each way, started part time graduate classes, and got old.  (Seriously, it was amazing how even a few years after undergrad, no amount of unfinished schoolwork was worth staying up past midnight.)  Still pounding coffee, falling asleep on the commute, and eating just to to stay awake in class, I just thought how I felt was normal, since that's how my life had been for ten years.  A few times in between hitting the snooze, I would dream that I was so tired that I actually slept through an entire day and was waking up say, on Wednesday instead of Thursday.  My mom, after hearing of Rip Van Winkle, would actually say things like this to my brother-in-law when he fell asleep on the couch, "Jimmy, wake up.  It's Christmas time.  You slept through the whole year."

But then my life changed: I moved to DC, finished grad school and got married all within a few months.  No more commute.  No more school.  And a lot more sleep.  Our "compromise" in marriage for the first year or two was that I adapted to Jason's earlier bed time and he adapted to my later wake up time.  If only we could resolve everything that way! But! I finally got the full amount of rest (ok.. sometimes more) than my body needed for a consistent amount of time, and it was amazing! Revelation upon revelation!  I no longer struggled to stay awake.  Deciding to exercise instead of napping was no longer torture.  I felt great, and my health, while never awful, was the best it's probably ever been!  I knew what it felt like to be alive! For some reason, I always just assumed that 7 hours was all I needed, but it's not! (This was no shock to my dad, who would often have to wake me up because my alarm had been going off for so long and so loudly that he could hear it one floor away with headphones on.  He and my mom did not understand how the fact that I never had enough sleep was news to me.)

Alas, all good things must come to an end.  Since our commute time was extended again with the move back to Maryland, I have more frequently needed that second or third cup of coffee.  I cannot really blame the commute, however.  We get up earlier, and although I'm not staying up doing work, we have actually been going to bed later because my dad, a notorious night owl, has gotten us hooked onto a few different TV series that he doesn't start until after he gets back from evening meetings.  I guess going to bed late isn't as bad when it's for fun reasons.

Now, I will say that even during the times of my life I was getting less sleep, it was still more than some people get.  I certainly had the choice as to how to spend my time when some people may not.  Moms of young kids, people with grueling work schedules, and plenty of other people have a much tougher schedule, so if that is you, how do you do it!? You have my serious respect and sympathy.  I'm not trying to complain, and I know that on many levels this is so trivial, but I am just fascinated that I just never even knew I was sleep deprived so much of my life until now!  I mean, I feel like a real adult now because I actually wake up ON MY OWN SOME WEEKEND before 8 am, filled with the same amount of wonder as Pinocchio at being a real boy.  So that's it. That's my story.  I never know it wasn't normal to be so tired - what else in life am I missing?  Is tofu actually tasty?  Or is Game of Thrones really that good?  What else do I think is normal that isn't?