The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Ten: Sleep

I’m not going to lie to you: I loooooooove sleep.

In fact, I may love it too much at this point. There’s a quote I use a lot these days, which when I heard it was attributed to Johnny Depp, but may have come from somewhere else, on the subject of sleep. It says that you know you’re getting old when you talk about sleep like you used to talk about sex. As in, “Oh my GOD, I had SUCH FANTASTIC SLEEP last night. It was AMAZING. And it WENT ON FOR HOURS. And then, when I was done, I DID IT AGAIN.” Yes, that’s me. And I don’t care who knows it.

But it’s not just a getting older thing with me. I’ll note that I was always an aficionado of sleep. As anyone who knows me and they will tell you I’ve always been a world class sleeper. Cats are my models — if a cat sleeps twenty hours a day, it considers that a day well spent. It’s a philosophy that I find hard to argue with. For most of my 20s and 30s I had a motto: “AM is what happens to other people.” It was a fine motto.

And unfortunately not one I subscribe to anymore. One reason is entirely practical: Someone has to take the daughter to school, and sometimes that person has to be me. The school, for some unfathomable reason, looks askance at me dropping her off at 1pm. I’m pretty sure Athena wouldn’t mind starting school at 1pm. They haven’t given us a vote on that. Fine.

The other reason is more existential: As I get older, my sleeping habits are changing. When I was younger, sleeping until noon and having my prime creative time from midnight to 4am worked perfectly for me — and when Athena was a baby, was actually an excellent thing because it meant I could take the night shift feedings and let my wife, who had a normal working schedule, get something close to a full night’s rest. But as my mid and late 30s rolled around, so did my sleeping schedule, and so did my prime creative time. These days when I’m writing a novel, the hours of 8am until noon are the ones that work for me, because I’ve had a full night of sleep and my brain is not yet crammed with e-mails and tweets and blog posts and phone calls and what have you. Now AM happens to me, damn it, and there doesn’t seem much I can do about it. I suppose I could try writing a novel on the night shift again. I wouldn’t guarantee the results.

This also means that these days I’m often in bed at 10pm and am progressively less likely to be awake when 11pm rolls around, much less midnight. In my mind these are “old people hours,” but then again, in a world filled with DVRs and on-demand streaming, what, exactly, do I have to stay up for? Jon Stewart is just as funny at 7:30 am as he is at 11pm — maybe even more so because I’m not sitting there with my brain on the “duuuuuuuh” setting, blinking slowly and trying to process the humor. I could stay up, in a misguided attempt to be one of the cool kids who makes it to midnight, but remember, I actually like sleeping. I’m not planning to run from it.

And what do I like about sleeping? I like how it feels, for one; I think some people are completely insensate when they are asleep, but that’s not how I am. I’m generally warm and comfortable and happy, and who doesn’t like being warm and comfortable and happy? (I know, I know: Emo kids. Their problem, man.) For another thing, I like dreaming; I’m one of those lucid dreamers you occasionally hear about, so I’m generally pretty engaged in what’s going on in my dreams. It’s also why I’ve never had a nightmare; when things start getting too weird, I say “that’s enough of that,” and then they’re done. I also do that with really boring dreams. It’s a good skill to have.

A third reason is that I find when I have a problem, whether related to writing or something else, I find that if I sleep on it, my subconscious does a lot of the heavy lifting of solving the problem. So when I wake up and bring it around again, as often as not the problem is solved or is at least sufficiently deknotted that I can get the rest of it with my conscious brain. This is really an incredibly useful thing and I honestly think one of the secrets to my success, because less time consciously problem-solving issues with writing means more time actually writing. I recommend it to everyone. Try saying “Brain, while I sleep I want you to think about [x]” before you drift off. Maybe it sounds stupid as you’re saying it, but you know what? Works for me. Maybe it’ll work for you.

My point here is that not only do I like sleep for its recreational and restorative purposes, but I’m also thankful that it seems to be working for me, too. I hope it continues to. Because, you know. I’m going to be sleeping anyway. And when I’m done sleeping, I’M TOTALLY GOING TO DO IT AGAIN.

 

38 thoughts on “The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Ten: Sleep

  1. 25 year old me would stay up playing games, chatting with friends online until 1am or so and get up at 6am and work a full day with no problem. 40 year old me needs to be sleeping by 11pm or I’m useless at work.

    I used to sleep til noon on the weekends to catch up on my sleep. But as kids get older, they expect me to attend games, scouting activities and lunch on the weekends, so I can’t do that any more.

  2. “Try saying “Brain, while I sleep I want you to think about [x]” before you drift off. ”

    Oddly, that is almost exactly the advice my father gave me when I was getting around high school age. He’d worked in the aerospace industry for some thirty years, and apparently that’s what a LOT of the engineers he knew from there actually did back then.

    I’ve tried it myself on occasion, and… it actually DOES work.

  3. OMG, I love sleeping. I have spent most of my life–from age four or five until a few years ago–as a hard-core insomniac, which gave me a deep appreciation for sleep. Now I am occasionally able to sleep more than 4 hours a night and I love it very much. I have spent years envying people like my wife, who can sleep 12 hours, get up for an hour or two, then take a nice nap, on her day off. I haven’t quite reached that pinnacle of wonderfulness, but I really, really enjoy every iota of sleep. Sleep is warm and dark and comfortable, and if you are lucky, full of snuggle-some goodness. Yay, sleep!

  4. I am profoundly grateful for the sleep I’ve had during the past seven months. At least eight, and closer to nine glorious hours a night.

    For the twenty years before that, I couldn’t sleep more than four hours at a go, and was exhausted all the time. Turns out, I have clinical depression. Doc put me on meds, and now I’m not only not peering at the world through ten inches of clear jello, I’M SLEEPING! It’s wonderful.

  5. I’ve long held that the difference between a child and a grown up is that when you tell a child to go have a nap, they say “I’M NOT TIRED!” and when you say it to a grown-up, they smile gratefully and scarper towards the nearest horizontal surface.

  6. Lucid dreaming: I didn’t use to be a lucid dreamer, but that changed a couple of years ago. The only things I can point to are A) mere age or B) becoming a writer.

    I think “B” did it. Once I started thinking in terms of plot, that conscious process transfered itself to my unconscious processing.

  7. I was just thinking about this the other day: why do I love sleep so much, when it’s basically just unconsciousness? And yet I do love it. I love it when I wake up in the middle of the night and check the clock and discover I have another blissful 3 hours before my alarm goes off.

  8. Amen. Then there is sleep is practice for the final sleep–death. Think of it. One of the most horrifying moments we can imagine is our moment of death, when we close our eyes knowing as we close them we will not be opening them again (in this life). Even people of faith, such as myself, know that when the time comes there will be an element of terror as any rationale person of faith knows that their faith might have been in a nonexistent deity. But every night now for sixty years I have practiced closing my eyes to then lose consciousness. I am thankful that sleep has been preparing me for that final closing of my eyes in this world.

  9. I could have pretty much written this whole post, except that I also need much less sleep as I get more advanced in my youth. Part of this is because of a jaw surgery I had in my twenties, which I suspect corrected an undiagnosed sleep apnea. Be that as it may, I sleep well most of the time and really enjoy my sleep and make good use of it with the lucid dreaming and problem solving and such. I also have magical powers of dog respect when I sleep such that they do not crawl into my side of the bed and pin me to the bed cutting off my circulation like they do my husband. Yay, sleep.

  10. Sleep really is the bestest thing evah! Although I’m pretty sure that image of Homer is going to give me nightmares for days on end.

  11. and when you say it to a grown-up, they smile gratefully and scarper towards the nearest horizontal surface. You need a horizontal surface?

  12. “I’m one of those lucid dreamers you occasionally hear about, so I’m generally pretty engaged in what’s going on in my dreams. It’s also why I’ve never had a nightmare; when things start getting too weird, I say “that’s enough of that,” and then they’re done. I also do that with really boring dreams. It’s a good skill to have.”

    My GOD man, that is the single most awesome thing imaginable. I used to have this fantasy where I could actually control my dreams. Ultimately I came to the realization that if I could do that, I would likely lose the waking world and just end up in a shack, staying awake only to eat and drink enough keep my body functioning, and that’s not a recipe for success. Still, while it lasted, it was pretty cool.

  13. Mmmm, sleep. Yes, it’s my alternate universe(s). I too am a world class sleeper… sometimes with a few issues now that I’m older but I wait them out, insomnia has always been defeated by the dream state. The only curious thing is those (rare) times where I end up in someone else’s dream where I’m all “where am I” and “who are these people” necessitating me having to “fake it out” until I’m able to move on.

  14. Man, I wish I could lucid dream. I’ve tried telling myself what I want to dream about, keeping a journal, all that – I’ve even found myself in the middle of a dream asking myself, “Am I awake, or am I dreaming?” and my stupid, uncooperative brain says, “Of course I’m awake. Why wouldn’t I be?” The dream then continues apace, and I pray that no one will notice I’m trying to teach a class in my underwear.

  15. I completely agree with you, John. The good thing is that I can sleep literally anywhere. On planes, in cars, standing up, etc. Ah, the benefits of military training. I’ve also learned that if I sleep anything less than 10 hours a week, I start to hallucinate.

  16. When I was a kid, my elementary school library had a series of books about “The Great Brain,” some turn-of-the-century kid who was very smart and who was always trying to con other kids out of their money and candy.

    I remember reading those books (the author’s name was Fitzgerald, and damn if I don’t plan on looking them up when I finish this comment) and how the Brain would sometimes solve problems in his sleep. It sounded wonderful and so I gave it a try.

    It’s worked like a charm for me ever since I was 9 years old. You puzzle and puzzle and puzzle over a problem and then go to bed. Bam! The answer’ll be there for you when you wake up in the morning.

    Wonderful.

  17. I have found the solution for two different math problems and at least three programming assignments in my sleep. I love it when that happens. As if sleep itself weren’t wonderful enough on its own!

  18. Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.

    — WM. SHAKESPEARE

    I don’t know about your dreams
    But mine are sort of hackneyed.
    Same thing night after night.
    Just…repetitive.
    And the color is really bad -
    And the themes are just infantile.
    And you always get what you want -
    And that’s just not the way life is.

    – LAURIE ANDERSON

  19. I used to lucid dream constantly when I was a kid. Now, I have precisely the opposite experience; my dreams seem far too real to me when I have them, to the point that when I wake I’ll often leap out of bed and shout CAPTAIN WHERE’S THE CURE TO THE VIRUS or some such nonsense, scaring my girlfriend and the cats to no end.

  20. A third reason is that I find when I have a problem, whether related to writing or something else, I find that if I sleep on it, my subconscious does a lot of the heavy lifting of solving the problem.
    Go to sleep with an itchy asshole, wake up with a smelly finger. Your brain will make sure problems get solved.

  21. Sleep is one of the most indulgent things a person can do. Time is ever-passing and a fleeting thing that once gone, can never be returned to me? Screw you, I’mma curl up on the couch, snuggle under the Slanket and put Food Network on so I dream about Alton Brown and cookies.

    My household is getting cats in 2012 and I can’t wait to set up my inter-species napping league.

  22. Nine months ago, my sleeping schedule was from midnight to 6. Then my daughter was born. I now go to bed at 9 PM, still get up at 6 AM and I still feel like I’ve had less sleep then before she was born.

    Could be that I also get up at 1 AM… and 3 AM… and 5 AM…

    So sleep on Mr. Scalzi for those of us who can’t.

    G!

  23. If you age like most people, you will sleep less through the night again at some point, though you may nap more.

    I wish I could lucid dream. As soon as I realize I’m dreaming, I usually wake up. I’ve managed it once or twice, but only for a few seconds–then I forget again that I’m dreaming.

  24. “I’ve long held that the difference between a child and a grown up is that when you tell a child to go have a nap, they say “I’M NOT TIRED!” and when you say it to a grown-up, they smile gratefully and scarper towards the nearest horizontal surface.”

    I find, I don’t need to be told any more than “go have a n…” I’m out cold before the “aaa” comes out.

  25. I used to be one of these disgusting people who woke up bright and cheerful at 6am every day. Not because I needed to go anywhere, but just because it seemed right to get up at 6. I finally got over it, mostly. But it took 60 years.

  26. I was a chronic insomniac for years as a child, and did have nightmares (which is why I woke myself up whenever I could). Sleeping, therefore, is an incredible gift for me. I learned lucid dreaming to combat the nightmares, which consequently never happen anymore, A technicolor adventure awaits behind my eyelids every night now. All the things you mention and more including problem solving, entertaining stories, warm fuzziness of all kinds, are included. Also danger and derring-do, but since I get to sort of direct the actions of the character played by me in those movies, that’s part of the fun. Anyway, this is in the running for my favorite of all your posts I’ve seen so far.

  27. I, also, am a whiz at lucid dreaming as are many of my siblings. I’d love someone to do a study about how common this is.

    I use to be able to, as a teen, sleep for over 14 hours at a time but then it was discovered I was low on iron and though I do not need to sleep as long I still sleep deep.

  28. 40 years at desk jobs, and I NEVER got used to getting up early. Now that I’m retired, I once again stay up reading until 2-4 am, and then sleep ’til 10 or even noon. YES!

  29. I love napping, but I have a psychological avoidance to actually going to bed for a full night of sleep. I think it’s partly rooted in the fact that the very large number of dreams I remember are nightmares, most of which involve being hopelessly lost and scared or having something horrible chasing me. I always feel very alone in my dreams, even though I’m not in real life. I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, and have had a couple of Doctor Who dreams and found them surprisingly reassuring. They’re full of the wonder and reassurance of the show, that even if things go horribly wrong, there’s still someone looking out for you. It’s been a nice change.

    Also, my husband works screwy hours, so even if I know I should be going to bed, the back of my mind is saying, “Maybe if we stay up a few more minutes, he’ll be walking in the door…”

  30. I think that quote’s originally from Irish standup Ed Byrne. It’s an “I seem to recall” situation, but it does sound like him, and the last time I saw Ed Byrne he was sitting next to Johnny Depp on a group-chatty sort of talkshow and Depp was laughing at his jokes, so I’m going to take a gamble and call it his.

    It could also be Dylan Moran.

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