The Virtues of Sleep and Caffeine

Sleeeep... now they'll sleeeeep...

Sleeeep… now they’ll sleeeeep…

It’s been gloomy and cold and rainy and miserable for at least a week straight here. Yesterday the sun finally came out and I nearly wept in gratitude. So good. Today, I woke up, had some toast and yogurt, dicked around on the internet for a little bit, then laid down on the floor and took a nap in a huge sunbeam, cat-style. I have no regrets.

I seem to have reached a point in my life where I am finally accepting my sleep requirements for what they are, rather than something to control or be ashamed of. Apparently, I personally require about nine hours of sleep to be really functional, alert, and productive. Any less than that, and I wind up dragging my feet, dicking around, barely getting by, no matter how much caffeine I ingest. At least, until I take a nap to make up for the hours-less-nine that I didn’t get.

There is nothing wrong with getting nine hours of sleep. 

There is also nothing wrong with when I get that nine hours, provided my waking hours are reasonably productive at least some of the time. I tend toward lateness – always have. And it’s always been a pretty big guilt trip for me, too. Why? Why is there this common judgment that anyone who doesn’t wake up before 8am is a lazy slackoff, even if they were awake and working until two in the morning? Okay, to be fair, I am usually not working on pianos until two in the morning, but I am frequently writing until two in the morning. I don’t judge people who are sleeping peacefully while I’m working those hours, so why should I judge myself for getting a solid nine whenever they happen?

Being self-employed and making my own schedule means A) I have the luxury of dictating my sleep schedule, and B) With that luxury comes responsibility. I don’t mean textbook responsibility, like the whole, “get to bed early enough to rise as a decent hour.” I mean kind of the opposite – my responsibility has become that of approaching my work load at any given time, of not writing a day off because I was up until 4am the night before, and didn’t really get started on my day until the afternoon. My luxury is also in being able to do this work at any time. So my other responsibility is to go ahead and get the sleep my body needs in order to do that work effectively.

My husband can go to bed at four in the morning and haul himself up at 9 or 10 and “make” himself wake up. Sure, I can make myself be technically awake. But I may as well be asleep for as useful as I’ll be. Even with caffeine. In fact, I’ve noticed over the years that caffeine actually does very little for me when I am tired. There have been many times when I’ve had a cup of coffee and promptly gotten so sleepy I’ve needed a nap. So, why do I “need” my coffee, then?

Because of God.

Because of God.

I love coffee. And I know, you either know what I mean, or you just don’t get it. It’s not that it is integral to my being awake, any more than cigarettes were a chemical addiction to me because I was a nic-fitting fiend (I wasn’t – smoking was always about the physical action and angst, a subculture, and a ritual).

Yes, ritual. There’s a lovely ritual to coffee – whether it’s the grind/tamp/squeeze of pulling espresso shots, or the lovely sound of the Krups machine percolating the last bit of drip coffee. I’m actually kind of glad that my husband doesn’t drink it, because that makes the coffee-ritual a thing that’s all mine, and somehow that makes it even more precious. And while coffee may be ineffective at keeping me awake when I’m truly tired, those first couple of sips are, without fail, some kind of divine pleasure that seeps through my system like… like I don’t even know what. And I’m a writer – I should be able to metaphorize it, and I can’t/won’t because it’s a pleasure in and of itself.

Anyway. There it is. I have learned to embrace the sleep that I need, to not be ashamed of it, and to not use that false-failure as an excuse to throw away my days, if that makes any sense. I’m also letting myself work odd hours so that I can absorb as much sunshine as possible in an attempt to ward off S.A.D.

How about you? Anyone out there struggling with sleep-guilt? What about caffeine and/or nicotine addiction?

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