There are some disappointments about growing older and one of them is losing the desire to sleep in. For the first half of my life, I wanted to sleep in late, even through I frequently couldn’t. For the first eighteen years or so that was because of school. Through junior high school I could walk to school, but school was inevitable and I had to be up, and dressed, and breakfasted. I yearned for weekend and summer days when I could sleep in late. “Late” was often eight in the morning.
Beginning in high school, I took the school bus, and as I was one of the first stops on my route, it meant being at the bus stop at 6:30 am. That meant being up before six o’clock. I remember waking wearily, eating breakfast, dressing, and then falling asleep on the couch while the morning news played in the background, frequently entering my dreams. I’d sleep again on the bus ride, which was around 45 or 50 minutes long, finally arrving at school around 7:35.
It was in college that I finally had some greater control over my schedule. That first quarter at the University of California, Riverside, I had 8 am lectures on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a mistake I didn’t make again until my senior year. There were times in college when I slept past noon, which seems, in hindsight, obscene. I worked in the dorm cafeteria for most of my time in school, and in my junior and senior years, would take late night or early morning custodial shifts, which, since I was already up, made it easy to get to early classes again.
Ultimately, it was traffic that turned me into an early bird. A few months after my college graduation in 1994, I started at the company that I still work for today. Over the course of that first year, I frequently “slept in” until 7:30 or so. I lived in Studio City and was suppsoed to be in Santa Monica by 8:00 am, but the traffic wouldn’t allow it. Not when I was getting up at 7:30. I gradually began to get up earlier and earlier, until I finally settled on 5:10 am. I would shower the night before, and set out my clothes. My alarm would go off at 5:10 am and I would dress, get in the car, and drive to the office, which at that time of day took only 20 minutes or so. I’d arrive at the office at about 5:30am, work until 5 o’clock in the evening, and then drive home–the latter drive often taking close to 2 hours.
I still wanted to sleep in back then, and made up for it in two ways: I’d sleep in on weekends. I have diary entries from that time noting that I slept in on a Saturday or Sunday until eleven o’clock in the morning. Also, I began napping at my desk at lunch time. I divided my hour lunch into three parts: I’d eat my lunch in the first 10 minutes, read my book for the next 20 minutes, and then for the final 30 minutes, set my head down on my desk, on a sweatshirt that I used for pillow, and nap.
Time has kept beating the desire for sleeping in late out of me. At its worst, I was getting up at 4:15 in the morning, making breakfast, then heading over to the local Metro station to catch the first train into town where my office was. (At this point, I’d moved back to the east coast from California.) I’d arrive at my office at 6 am, drop off my stuff, and then head over to the local gym to work out for an hour before showering and returning to the office to start my day.
These days, and for a long time now, I find myself rising more or less with the first sunlight, often by six o’clock. I haven’t set an alarm in years. I aim to get out for my morning walk as soon at it is light enough to see clearly. This varies with the time of year. This time of year, it means that I am out the door at 6:45 am or so. But I’m usually up at 6 o’clock regardless of what time I went to bed, and spend the first 45 minutes of the day going through the three papers I subscribe to (digitally now). This is as true for weekends, holidays, and vacations as it is for weekdays. Any desire in me to sleep in has long since wilted and died.
And yet I still sometimes think of myself as lazy. Isaac Asimov always rose at 5 am. It was, he said, because of the “candy store hours” he kept through most of his childhood and teenage years1. I was recently reading a profile of the radio commentator Charles Osgood, and discovered that he, too, was an earlier riser, awakening at 2:30 am every day, and usually getting to bed by 9 pm.
Six o’clock in the morning is just about perfect for me. It is more perfect in the summer than the winter.
The bitter irony, of course, is that when I wanted to sleep in late, I couldn’t. Now that I can, I have no desire to. Indeed, on those rare occasions (once or twice a year) when circumstances conspire to have me sleep in until 7 or 7:30 am, I feel like half the day has wasted away by the time I pull myself out of bed. Indeed, if I haven’t written at least one post by am, I feel as if the day is already starting to get away from me.
Written on March 28, 2022 (long after 8 am).
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- His parents owned a series of candy stories in Brooklyn and the stores opened at six and closed late. ↩