“I think I might be nocturnal.” This is the realization I came to during one teenage summer. I was at that magic age where I had no school, no job, and no bedtime. All of the freedom, none of the responsibilities. I found myself finally dozing off to the sound of birds chirping at 7 am, and rolling out of bed around 3 pm. While this was acceptable—after all, I had nowhere to be—I did note that it was not normal.
This pattern continued well into my adulthood. Whenever I had a block of time when I had no daytime responsibilities, I watched the sun rise every morning on my way to bed. I was a vacation vampire. Even when I wasn’t able to fully commit to my Twilight lifestyle, I was still very much a night owl, congratulating myself on “early” 1 am bedtimes. I didn’t give it much thought, it was just what worked for me.
Then I had kids. Just as they had done to my bladder, my ability to concentrate, and half the things I own, my kids broke my system. My oldest did not understand how sleep worked. Not just as a newborn either. By the time he was 14 months old, he was waking between 13-23 times a night (I logged it!) I consulted a No Cry sleep book and it told me to let him cry, which I took as a bad sign. Moms at my playgroup would complain that their child woke twice the night before, and I would fight the urge to punch them.
Despite his sleep allergy, he did have a three to four-hour stretch every night from about 9 pm to 1 am. Logic said I should sleep during this time. The books said I should sleep during this time. My husband said I should sleep during this time. My mom said I should sleep during this time. Old ladies at the mall said I should sleep during this time. I did not sleep during this time. I was delirious with exhaustion, I could have fallen asleep in an instant, but I could not bring myself to do it.
It was then that I realized that all this time my nighttime alertness had not been a preference, but a need. I needed that time at night more than I needed sleep. That age-old advice of “sleep when the baby sleeps” would mean that I did not get a break from parenting. EVER.
Why did I stay up as a teenager and young adult? It was quiet, it was away from people and distractions, and I just function better. At age 12, I had asked for a bedtime extension because I liked writing at night when my brain was clearer. I never started an essay before 10 pm. I’m writing this now at 1:58 am. My mind is clearer at night, I am energized, I feel more like myself and I cannot function without my time at night.
Despite being more tired than ever, my need for this time only intensified when I became a parent. It turns out that being a parent and an introvert is more tiring than sleep deprivation. Introverts like people well enough and love their children as much as any other parent, but people drain their energy at an exaggerated rate. Children are people. People who feel a need to touch you, make small talk with you and make you the focus of their attention for hours at a time—all the things that suck the life out of introverts. Turns out my children are vampires too. I need the time at night to recharge and feel human again.
So, I’m not actually nocturnal it seems. I just gain more energy from time to myself than I do from sleep. Maybe one day I will learn to balance the two, but today is not the day. Sorry old ladies at the mall, I will be drinking that 9 pm coffee while my children sleep.