The night-owl test is looking at the clock at 1:14 a.m. and see if you think, I’ve still got time to clean the kitchen
I t hurts when someone you love says something mean like “It’s time to wake up.” But my husband keeps doing it.
We’re opposites. At busy times — Tishrei Nissan and some Friday mornings — our paths cross in the bedroom; he’s getting up to daven k’vasikin and I’m turning in for a few hours of shut-eye. Whenever I’m awake before seven a.m. it’s because I haven’t gone to sleep yet. I live in a self-made time warp where night stretches on endlessly because tomorrow only starts when I wake up.
You may be a night owl too. The test is to look at the clock at 1:14 a.m. and see if you think I’ve still got time to clean the kitchen, sort the socks and catch up on e-mails.
There’s something so tantalizing about those hours of uninterrupted unpressured time. It’s definitely the best time to get stuff done. Not stuff like mowing the lawn but quiet artistic things. You can’t hurry the creation of a great recipe or a brilliant Purim costume. You need lots of time to tinker with it until it’s just right.
So I stay up late every night. I don’t really mean to; I’ve noticed how difficult it makes waking up. So at nine p.m. I tell myself “I’m going to bed soon.”
And at ten p.m. I tell myself “I’m going to bed soon.”
And at eleven p.m. I tell myself “I’m going to bed soon.”
Same thing at midnight and one a.m. Then at two a.m. I say “Shoot I didn’t go to bed yet.”
But I’m not upset. I’m learning to accept that my day runs backward. I wake up tired and stay tired all day only to come fully awake when the kids go to bed. I think that’s because it’s the only time I can be alone and that’s too precious to waste. Or it might be because I was born on the other side of the world and can’t get over the jet lag even if I have been living here for 35 years.
Whatever the reason my brain goes into hyperdrive at ten p.m. Each aspect of my personality — the id (my selfish desires) the ego (the moderator between my id and the real world) and the superego (my conscience) — clamors to be heard. Id says “If you just make a to-do list for tomorrow pack the kids’ lunches put something in the freezer for Shabbos and fold a load of laundry now you won’t be pressured tomorrow.” Ego says “If you go to sleep now you’ll have energy for all those things tomorrow.” Superego says “Stop eating ice cream.”
Not knowing whether id or ego is right I leave them to fight it out and address superego. “I didn’t mean to waste my precious ‘alone time’ eating. I just went to get a drink of water before I went to sleep. The ice cream and potato chips were an accident.”
It’s not a great time of day for eating well. You can’t nip out to the health food store in the middle of the night, and you can’t even go to the local grocery to pick up some fresh, virtuous cottage cheese. At night, I’m certainly more likely to eat foods with a frighteningly long shelf life, whose ingredients are words I can’t pronounce. There are illegal substances that are more straightforward, chemically, than what I eat at midnight. Maybe that’s why the night feels like such a productive time. For all anyone knows, gummy worm-marshmallow-corn chip mixes are hallucinogenic.
People assume there’s something honorable about being a morning person. “The early bird gets the worm,” they chirp. I yawn and point out to them that the worm that sleeps in lives longer. And that once, for a fishing trip, I got up before dawn and caught a whole bucket of worms. It didn’t inspire me enough to ever want to do it again.
“Early to bed and early to rise, make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” the morning larks quip. But I don’t give a hoot what they think of my staying up all night. I could be a morning person if I wanted to… if morning started a lot later than it does.
Besides, I’m not convinced that theirs is the superior path. Battling my yetzer hara builds character better than going to bed at nine p.m. and waking up refreshed and energetic. So, every morning, I drag my body around while my brain struggles to accept the inevitable — that, until ten at night, I’m going to be longing for sleep.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 531)
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