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The Reason I Have Trouble Sleeping Isn’t Because of My Kids

Bedroom at night

Like most parents of young children, I am exhausted most, if not all, of the time. In fact, my sleep deficit is so massive that no single good night’s sleep could ever really make a dent in this gaping hole where sleep once lived. At this point, only a page out of Rip Van Winkle’s playbook could help me turn things around.

These days, I can’t even sit down to read to my kids without falling asleep. That’s an absurd new low, even for me. No matter how hard I try, two paragraphs is my limit. That’s it.

Now, I could easily blame my sleep deprivation on my kids. After all, I’ve got four of them and they do invariably wake up throughout the night for all kinds of various and sundry reasons (cue the requests for water, bathroom, water AND bathroom, etc, etc, etc). But, in all honesty, my kids do sleep (finally!), if not straight through the night, at least for a good portion of it. So, they are not really the problem.

The problem, if we want to name it, is me. The reason I am often sleepwalking through the day—and prying my eyes awake at night—comes down to my own affinity for nighttime. And I mean for late, late nighttime. The truth is, I am a night owl—a bona fide, absolute, 100% night owl. I don’t stay up late out of circumstance or necessity (though I might argue that it is a necessity).

I stay up late because I choose to do so. I voluntarily torture my body in this way. I willingly keep my eyes open until they can no longer resist the pull of sleep. No matter how many times I fall asleep in the course of the evening (which basically happens at least once a night as I’m putting the kids to bed), I always will myself awake for the late night stretch.

Confession: Some days, I literally can’t wait until everyone else goes to sleep. I actually long for this time alone; I crave it. I think it may have something to do with spending much of the day surrounded by little people, all clamoring for love and attention and dessert and more dessert. It always surprises me how their sweet little voices create so much noise and how their adorable little bodies create such an astounding amount of kinetic energy. It truly defies the laws of nature!

But the commotion and the clamor are real, and by the end of the day, I’m literally jonesing for silence. I’m like a silence junky craving my juice, because the moment I sit down after everyone else has gone to bed, I’m in heaven. The house is quiet! No one is calling me! I can read in peace! This is what I’m talking about.

My late night habit stretches back many, many years—predating children and marriage, adulthood, even adolescence. When I was a little girl, my parents used to call me the “night watchman” (I didn’t object to the gendered idiom), because, for years, I used to wander the house until all hours. As a child, my predilection for late nights was sometimes disconcerting. But once I learned how to help myself relax and go to sleep, I began to embrace my body’s “unique” rhythms. And thus, began a life-long love affair with staying up late.

In elementary school, I was always the last to fall asleep at slumber parties. In college, I remember closing down Tommy’s Pizza at 3 a.m. on more than several occasions. And since I became a mother, nighttime has always been the right time to party—or, rather, nurse. My husband laments that I have been a poor influence on his sleep habits; he stays up later than he ever used to since he met me. The lure of the nightshift is very contagious, what can I say?

And to those who ask, “What is it you do so late at night?” I answer, what don’t I do so late at night? I read, I write, I think. I catch up on the phone with west coasters, I send emails, I pack lunches. I fill water bottles, do laundry, do the dishes, organize—photos, art projects, clothes, papers, you name it! I shower (best time—no interruptions), sort mail, pay bills, walk my dog, prep breakfast, peruse the paper, do the crossword, grocery shop (at the store or online), hang out on Facebook, put my face in a real book, check my kids’ backpacks for the next day, lay out their clothes, put away toys, look for recipes, stare into space, nod off… I do all these things and more at 1 a.m. There is something about the middle of the night that lends even the most mundane activity a kind of enchanted quality.

It is said that King David arose every night at midnight to sing praises to God and to study the words of Torah. The Kabbalists, too, have a custom of waking at midnight to pray and meditate and learn. Our sages understood that there is something mystical about the night, something so powerful in its silence and obscurity.

I feel the same. Even in the darkness of night, I can see much better. And in the quiet, for what often feels like the first time in the day, I can listen and hear. This is my time to process, to vision, to dream. This is my time to create and explore and imagine. I am hard pressed to give it up, even for the promise of more sleep.

My name is Sara and I am a night owl. Now would you please turn off that light so I can take a nap?


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