Let’s play pretend. We’re going to pretend that the world has flipped upside down. You’re a morning person, cheerful in the bright sunlight, and everyone else is sleeping. The stores are all closed, you can’t order a pizza, and your friends would be really ticked if you called them right then, because they have to get up for work at five in the afternoon. You can’t vacuum your apartment for fear of disturbing the neighbours, and if you want to watch a movie you have to constantly fiddle with the volume whenever there’s an action sequence blasting sound into the room.
Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? For the night owl this is their reality. Then there’s the prejudice.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been unable to sleep before two or three in the morning. It turns out that there’s a medical explanation for this, called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (or Syndrome), but the result is that it’s an incurable affliction that affects approximately 3 in every 2,000 people. I’ve been a night person my whole life, and since it’s the childhood-onset form I will remain that way. No light therapy in the world is going to change that. Having a sleeping disorder that forces you to live a life opposite others means a great deal of concession and compensation. It also requires the patience not to punch people when they call you lazy for sleeping only six hours, because it happens to take place during the day. Or the people who say, “It’s just not normal,” and then proceed to give you all the advice you’ve already been given at least weekly for duration of your life. It’s one of the more annoying rinse and repeat cycles for me.
In order to live at night the way my body was meant to, I had to eschew corporate work. Work I was pretty damn good at, and that had me climbing the ladder very consistently, but it was work that was making me sicker every year. At least once a year I got bronchitis. My immune system kept getting run down because I was living on about two hours’ sleep every night, except on weekends where I tried to ‘catch up’ from the week. Trust me when I say that does not work. There’s no catching up on sleep you desperately needed at the time, that you didn’t get. All you can do is try to recover from the very real brain damage that can occur from disturbed sleep cycles, much like what happens when you get jet lag.
The last year I worked for someone other than myself, I ended up with pneumonia. I still went in to work to do payroll, since I was the only one on staff that was doing it for ten different companies in two countries, for about sixty employees. Those people needed their money, so what else was I going to do? I was laid off shortly after that, and I can’t begin to express how relieved I was. It was time to strike out on my own and do the things I really wanted to be doing, and doing them for myself so I was the one making the money, instead of making money for other people.
When it comes to living at night, though, there are a lot of things I have to work around to be able to deal with everyday life. I’m pretty lucky with some things. Most banks where I live have extended hours, often open until eight in the evening on certain days. We have some 24-hour grocery stores, and there’s a local company that takes online grocery orders and delivers them to your door. My whole working life is online, or at least on my laptop, so that makes it even easier for me, but I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone with a different skill-set. I can sell things through auctions, have items drop-shipped from my supplier, make my own things to sell, write articles, do web design, you name it. Not everyone does that kind of work.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games, either. I have to be so careful to be considerate of others. I know I’m in the minority when it comes to my natural sleep cycles. Then there are the regular, daytime noises that I have to tolerate from everyone else. People don’t even think about the possibility they might be disturbing someone during the day, and the law agrees with them. Noise pollution laws go into effect around eleven PM in most places, and don’t lift until seven or eight, but then it’s a free-for-all. People can crank their stereos to any volume they like. People can yell and scream in the street without worrying about a ‘disturbing the peace’ rap marring their records. In the evenings they can watch TV or a movie, and the wailing sirens and car crashes aren’t a problem. Maybe one day they’ll have a proper volume limiter that keeps commercials from suddenly screaming into the room, but until then watching movies at night involves a constant grip on the remote with your thumb ever-present on the volume-down button (unless you don’t have any immediate neighbours or any day people sharing the house with you).
My sleep disorder is pretty rare, so it’s unlikely most people are disturbing anyone like me, but what about the shift-workers? My daughter falls into that category. She has a very bizarre schedule that alters between days and night every four or five days. Thankfully she’s a really heavy sleeper and it would take a marching band to wake her up (or one of our particularly determined ferrets wanting to get out of my bedroom and rattling the door in his usual demanding fashion).
I think there are more night people than the general population might realize, however. In fact, pretty much every writer I know prefers to be awake at night. There’s just something special about seeing the world at that time. There’s a peace and solitude that you simply can’t get during the day unless you live in a cave. Being able to see the stars and breathe in that beautiful night air, though, is such a fabulous feeling. I never feel more awake and alive than I do when I’m looking up at the night sky. I feel like I can accomplish anything.
Sadly, the vast majority of people are rather unthinking when it comes to the needs of the people that share their community. If you do happen to run into someone who’s a little different from you, however, maybe just be nice enough not to call them names for their differences? I’m also constantly hearing people rave about how I’m missing out on hours of sunlight, lack of vitamin D, et cetera. Well, guess what? I’m allergic to the sun anyway, so avoiding it is probably for the best for me. Oh, and unless you live south of Texas you’re not going to get enough vitamin D from the sun for your health needs anyway, so let’s put that little myth to rest – not without exposing yourself to an unhealthy amount of sunlight that will in all likelihood give you skin cancer later in life.
Much as I might wish for immortality, however, I have no sensitivity to garlic, holy water or crosses, and I sleep in a bed like everyone else. I’ve just learned to ignore those who want to rant about my ‘chosen’ lifestyle. It’s not a sin to be a night owl. It’s just different.
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