The science of sleep

There was a time that I took sleep for granted.

When I was in college, sleep wasn’t a privilege – it was a God given right, it was the very thing I was owed after a long day of whatever it was I did in college. During the summer, I stayed up until whenever I wanted, and I slept in until whenever I wanted. Sleep was my slave; I its master, forever at my bidding. I turned it on and off like a new faucet.

When I moved back to Sioux Falls, things didn’t change. Sure, an occasional early morning substitute teaching call cut my sleep short, but I was still in full control of when I could sleep. Nothing could stop me. The calls could be turned off. The world; my oyster, with sleep the gritty sand I could either keep or wash out.

I didn’t think about sleep. I didn’t need to. I owned it. I made the decisions. So I never treated it as something I had to worry about.

And then, fatherhood. Sleep – this act I had previously regarded with only a blind eye – became crucial. As if tired of the neglect, sleep rose up and left me standing in a nursery with both eyes squinting and a night-light piercing through what was left of my drowsiness.

“Oh, Corey. How cliché! New parents don’t get sleep! Boo hoo – what’s next, ‘cherish every moment’ or ‘they grow up so quickly?’”

Stop that. It’s all true. Every cliché becomes absolutely true. Especially the sleep thing.

Especially that.

I took advantage of sleep. I figured I’d always have it, whenever I required it, at my beckoning call, and I treated it as if it was nothing more than breathing, nothing but an involuntary act that I could halt if necessary. Sure, also like breathing, I always needed it – would be forced to resume if my body willed it – but it was movable. It was a forgotten need. I was blissfully ignorant.

Most of us feel the same way. Sleep is what we think it is – a time of rest that can be driven by whatever schedule we choose.

It’s when you add another schedule. That’s when it gets screwed up. Up four times a night. In bed at 8:30. Up at 5:45.

I used to be in such control. I took advantage of sleep. I treated it like no one should be treated. And now, when I need it most, sleep is showing me who’s really in charge.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 29th, 2008