This article was originally published in the 'Open Page' column of The Hindu dated 01/June/2014. For those who missed to read it there, here is the content on Night Owl.
It is 15 minutes to midnight, and my brain is ticking fast. I’m a night owl. My brain works best in the night.
It was pretty late by the time I figured out I’m one. As a child my mother would thrust me into bed and wake me up as early as 5 a.m. to do study. What I was doing most of the days, however, was to sip the tea and doze off on the book with the study lamp focussed on my face.
A few years later when I was in college with no strict bed-time rules, I realised that night was the best time to study. When the whole house was in deep slumber and even the mosquitoes would have retired for the night, my eyes would race through page after page. Surprisingly, my eyes would be wider in the night.
Office gave me more freedom: they encouraged me to take night calls and work with U.S. counterparts. My friends teased me that I need to be in U.S. as my body clock has already tuned to that country’s time. Thus encouraged, I would sleep late, wake up late — sometimes really late.
How others view it
But this is no easy life. For a girl to get up late is considered socially unacceptable. Every failure of my life would be attributed to my waking up late. You see, when the gods are on their rounds in the morning showering their blessings, I’ll be sleeping instead of praying. After much scolding from my parents, I tried hard to wake up in the morning. I would set the alarm to 6 a.m. and then sit straight in the bed without hitting the snooze button.
Did you know it is one of the best methods to tune your body to wake up at the right time? So I did. I would wake up at 6 a.m., and walk around the whole day like a zombie. By six in the evening my body would have kind of stopped working and will be longing to go to bed. But I would not sleep, I will still continue to walk about like a zombie, hoping that sleep would linger on and I can go to bed early. I felt happy I was on the path to becoming an early riser.
But no! As the clock struck 9 p.m. the zombie state disappeared instantly and the rush of energy was back. The body is a tricky mechanism. Even if I go to bed early with the thought that I was just longing to be in bed a few hours back, maybe I will fall asleep if I lie down, no! Eventually I will give up staring at the fan and get up to do something. It is often said anything that is done for 14 consecutive days becomes a habit. So I made a point to wake up early every day, and after three weeks of walking as a zombie all that happened was that I fell sick.
Soon this was attributed to insomnia, the sleeping disorder. I drank hot milk, only to get fat; took hot water baths, only to feel fresher; switched off electronic gadgets, only to pick up a book. I read volume after volume, and worked out hard, only to sleep soundly but not early. I searched the Internet and found out about the circadian rhythm, biological clock, superchiasmatic nucleus, melatonin levels, and much more. Circadian rhythm controls your level of activity throughout the day and the biological clock puts it in sync. Believe it or not, your biological clock might be genetically controlled and if you disrupt it, you go for a toss.
After the research, I ruled out insomnia, and decided no longer to disrupt the circadian rhythm. Let me just dance to its tune. As I came to terms with the night owl in me, a happier, peaceful me was born. I worked during hours when there was no one to disturb me. Apart from the ticking clock and the humming fan, there was absolutely no noise. My mind became more alert than ever and came up with solutions much faster. I finished a great amount of work in the night with thoughts pouring in and energy spiked. At 11 p.m. I would be happily preparing the next day’s lunch, and at midnight I would be going around drying clothes. Late evening was my time to work out. The stars and the moon were my best friends.
But the world was not happy with it. The late-risers are labelled lazy ones. I would reach office late, only to be looked at with scorn. My manager would set up meetings at 9 a.m. to force me to get into the office. My mom would pull open the curtains and let the sun mercilessly beat my eyes. The point is that the body needs a minimum of seven hours of sleep, whatever time you go to sleep. And once you cut it short and rock the rhythm you turn into a zombie. The zombie would be asked to think out-of-the-box while my brain would cringe.
The larks might never understand us. Dear larks, we night owls are as productive as you are and more creative than you, so please don’t give us the, ‘early to bed early to rise’ advice. I am a night owl, not a dark-eye circled insomniac.
|Image source: The Hindu. Art by Keshav