I started falling asleep during class in middle school. I was getting older and shedding all that hyperactive, overabundance of energy that keeps kids wide-eyed and electric during our early childhood. For whatever reason, I was staying up later, waking up early and building up my sleep debt. Often I theorize that this debt has continually grown to this day as I lose more hours to it, to the point where it feels like I'm years behind on sleep. I'm pretty sure I can nap for 15 hours if I unleash the sloth within.
As a result of my helpless battle against the sandman, I learned to sit in the back of the room, put my head down and peak up every few minutes. It's not that I wanted to be a bad student or that I was bored. I was just, too often, unbearably sleepy. Teachers would usually ignore me or wake me up and ask me if I was okay -- a nicer way of telling me I just got caught so I should get it together. Once, in high school, a teacher just kicked the leg of my desk. I jolted awake and the teacher pretended to stumble. "Oh, sorry, tripped," he said. But the joke's on him, I still fell asleep in his class.
Another time, towards the end of my senior year, one of my teachers was getting supplies out of a cabinet located next to my desk. I was in my preferred slumber position -- head down in a dark nest created by my arms. I was likely having one of my many awkward dreams about ostriches.
"Your life couldn't possibly be that hard," he said as he dug through the cabinet.
I woke up and had no idea what he was talking about.
"Your head is always down."
"Oh!" I said, suddenly aware of the implied image I've had for years. "It's not that, I just don't sleep a lot. At all."
He didn't seem to believe me, but he didn't seem to care that much either.
College was a brave new world of sleeping habits. Any time I chose to have a class at 7 AM, it would almost be pointless because I would simply be knocked out. But if I signed up for one later in the day, I'd still inevitably succumb to sleep, but I would get my shit together by the end of the class. Also, somehow no matter when my first class of the day was scheduled, I would always wake up no more than an hour before it. Every morning was about how fast I could go from groggy lethargy to adrenaline panic.
The conversations we have with ourselves in bed during these years are fun. I looked for any reason to justify a few more minutes or, even, not going to class at all. Often my arguments, which require more energy to construct than actually getting up, involve being absent altogether as a less embarrassing option than showing up late. Once, I even justified my sleeping in by planning my entire future, and how this class was merely a speck in the grand scheme of things, and that perhaps it would be best to save up this energy for the real work later on.
Then there are the adventures in sleep deprivation. As a writer, I had many papers and stories to do, and my habits taught me that I enjoyed it most in one long sitting. I would start work well into the evening and finish by class time in the morning. If I was lucky, I could catch an hour or two before I had to report. On my worst day, I was awake for 36 hours straight. I know that doesn't sound like much to the more eccentric insomniacs out there, but for me, it was like a descent into the madness. I swore I could feel the universe in my bones.
I've been working on getting in sync with the world these days. I get up when I know I need to; for work, for health, or just to enjoy the sunlight. Waking up late feels more like a depressing failure. It reminds me that my calibration is broken, and I feel left behind when the sun goes down too soon. Without a regular job to hold me to the fire, I grapple with my alarm and willpower to fluctuating success.
Looking back at my Twitter feed, I would see maybe 1/4th of the tweets are observations about sleep or dreams or sleep. It's entirely possible that I'm just a fucking boring dude. But barring that, I have a sneaking suspicion that the outcome of much of my life is dependent on my sleep.
If I could just get by on 6 hours like a normal person, I would be an exponentially more useful person. I would get my procrastinating out of the way sooner, I would stay sharp without relying on coffee, I would have more life to live.
Everyone has dreams and fantasies about reaching their maximum potential, and on the days where my projects don't progress because I can't get through my mind's fog, I can't help but feel like sleep is the thing holding me back. Too often, I succumb to the stupid sandman, and I hate him for the time he steals from me every day.
Sometimes, it feels like my entire life is just grappling with the demands and effects of my uneven sleep cycle. Sometimes, it feels like sleep is life's great central theme, not love, or innocence, or salvation. At my weirdest, I may believe that sleep is the most important thing in civilization.