Circadian rhythms. Do they matter?

I’ve been on this Earth for a quarter of a century, and I still have no idea how the hell anyone is able to go to bed at a consistent time every night.

To put this in context, I don’t do anything consistently. I can’t keep the same schedule two days in a row for the life of me. Mealtime is whenever I’m hungry, which is never predictable, and I get work done as I’m able, because I have several anxiety disorders and I’m rarely able. I live a poorly-scheduled life where the future is always in flux.

It sounds chaotic, but it isn’t really a problem until sleep is involved. As a kid, I refused to go to bed, always searching for some way to stay up a little longer. I wasn’t particularly married to the idea of being awake; I was just whole-heartedly against sleeping. 

Nothing improved through middle and high school. It took full-strength prescription medications to knock me out, and even then, my body did its best not to let go of consciousness. I became a chronic insomniac, often staying up deep into the night, though I knew I would be tired in the morning.

And I was. Getting me up was like trying to move a beached whale. I tried every strategy from setting loud, annoying alarms to asking my parents to freeze me out of bed by pulling the covers off me. But I slept through the alarms and the cold, and I struggled every morning to make my bus. Staying awake through my classes was more challenging than the classes themselves.

Things have gotten a little better since high school (but only because I don’t have to wake up at six freaking o’clock in the morning anymore). But I still wrestle with insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Coffee doesn’t help for more than a couple of hours, and I have to chug a lot of it to get any effect. 

And yet, the hardest part of having lifelong sleep disorders isn’t actually the disorders themselves: it’s other people’s expectations. I would have been so much happier in high school if classes started a little later in the day, but school boards everywhere insist on keeping an eight-to-three schedule. Businesses close around the time I start to feel awake. The world expects everyone to rise and shine, but I’ve realized after decades of being nearly nocturnal that there’s no inherent argument that my circadian rhythms are broken. They’re just different

So, rather than continue the pointless war against my insomnia, I’ve adjusted my life around it. I go to bed when I’m tired, just like I eat when I’m hungry. As long as I can tend to my obligations in the afternoon, I have no problem sleeping through each morning. I take naps when I feel like it, because I’ve arranged my life around my sleep, not vice-versa. My biology is too demanding to argue with. I’ve learned I will always lose that battle.

So, if you’re reading this and you suffer with sleep issues: maybe you don’t. Maybe you suffer in a world that doesn’t run on your schedule. There aren’t many opportunities to be successfully nocturnal, even though everyone’s circadian rhythms operate on their own time, and there’s not much anyone can do about that. Instead of lying awake in bed each night and chugging coffee in the morning, you might consider rearranging your responsibilities to accommodate your sleep patterns. That’s what I’ve done, and while I don’t ever catch the sunrise, at least I spend part of my day awake.

2 thoughts on “Circadian rhythms. Do they matter?

  1. Interesting post, thank you for sharing! I have been a high school counselor and have found a way that works for me and students I work with, it goes like this:

    As you crawl into bed, count backwards from 100, with each number being a deep breath, and think to yourself “I am twice as relaxed” with every breath and number. You should literally feel your body relaxing / loosening / melting into your mattress with each number counted and relaxing command you give yourself. If you lose track of your number, just start again at 100.

    Good luck!

    John Webb
    School Counselor
    New Hampshire


  2. I enjoyed this post as I saw myself in alot of it, though you’re a far sight younger. I’m 71 now and I eat and sleep when I felt the need. No one cares what you do after you hit 60 lol, you’ll see! It’s very freeing – after years on an attorney’s schedule, this is peace at last! 😎


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