With every passing year, my average bedtime stretches deeper into the night. It thinks I haven't noticed, but I do. It's not very good at sneaking. It'll be midnight on a Tuesday and I'll think, "Hey, I should sleep now!" and my bedtime says, "Yup!" and then it slowly backs away into 2 and then 3 and then 4 a.m., the whole time waving its arms around in swirls trying to hypnotize me to not notice its attempted escape.
And it works.
I'm going to tell you right now, up front, that I don't actually know why I do it. I have some theories -- one, which I will not include in the following list, has to do with my long-held belief that tomorrow doesn't start until you fall asleep, thereby allowing me to remain in the same day forever. Still trying to prove that one. Other than that ...
Night Is Calming; Day Is Stressful
There was a trade-off made when I slowly, over the course of many years, decided to stay up late every night to the point of self-loathing: If I give up my ability to feel like a functioning human during the day, I can do ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING I GODDAMN WELL PLEASE AT NIGHT AND NO ONE IS AWAKE TO STOP ME.
I can't make too much noise, though, because then people will wake up to investigate and will then, by definition, be "around." So, right off the bat there's a massive flaw in the contract I signed with myself. I should have read the fine print.
Don't misconstrue: When I joyously say I do it because no one's around, it doesn't mean I hate being around people. I like people about the average amount. Being awake late into the night is like a tiny vacation to a desolate island on a very cloudy day. There's a freedom I don't feel when the sun is out and making people walk around in its honor. It's a pleasant loneliness. The world has finally shut up. I wouldn't want to live in it, but it's a nice weekend getaway ... one that happens every night.
I was raised in an apartment along a loud, busy street. I think (again, think) I subconsciously began associating sunlight with loud cars, loud motorcycles, people screaming at each other, regularly scheduled twice-a-week car accidents, and emergency vehicle sirens (most times unrelated to the car accidents). For better or worse, all that hustle and bustle is the sound of shit getting done. Jobs. Money. Societal advancement. Life. Associating night with tranquility means my brain is in for a rough morning, every morning. My brain is still enjoying a midnight mojito on a beach while my body is getting beaten to a quivering heap by the daylight.
This idea that the wee hours of the morning are best for contemplative solitude would be easily scrapped if not for the fact that ...
It Gives The Illusion That There's More Time At My Disposal
If you complain that there just isn't enough time in the day for all the things you need and want to do, it's because I've taken some of your time and I'm throwing stacks of it on a bed and rolling in it and my butt cheeks are touching it.
Staying up late gives me an abundance of time to work with. I can fit everything into my day. I can work until the work is complete, and I can do nothing until I have completed that nothing to its fullest extent. Being a night owl means I've figured out how to live life most efficiently: don't be asleep for a second of it.
But all of that's a lie. It's a pool party sponsored by a beer company you see off in the distance after wandering the desert for a week. It's nice to think I have all that time to do something constructive, but that time doesn't really exist. It ultimately ends up being spent on nothing in particular. Just a shameful, sad waste of time. The kind that if the next day you asked what I had been doing all night I would either genuinely not remember because it was entirely forgettable, or I would lie because recalibrating my NERF guns for optimal dart accuracy is too embarrassing to tell people to their stupid judgey faces.
After refusing sleep became a habit, I started looking for any reason to justify staying awake every night. Most times it's wandering the Internet for hours with no intent or reason, which admittedly has led to finding great column material. But time only has meaning when you give it meaning. Doing nothing can sometimes have an easily justifiable purpose. But if you're just riding out the clock for the sake of it, then what are you doing with your life? That's what I ask myself when it's 3:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and I'm catching up on a half-dozen episodes of a TV show I don't even like.
Makes no sense, right? Seems like I should just shut it off and embrace the beauty of sleep, preferably at a much earlier time than usual. But there's a problem with that ...
I've Become Distrustful Of Getting To Bed On Time
The idea of getting to bed before 2 a.m. is a romantic notion. It's like when a little kid says he wants to grow up to be a firetruck. Sounds great, kid. You're dumb, but don't let me stop you from dreaming big.
I become riddled with anxiety if I go to bed at a fabled "reasonable time." I'm fortunate enough to not suffer from insomnia, so I don't lie in bed for hours when I eventually decide I've topped-off my self-loathing gauge and am now able to call it a night. I'm comatose within a minute of my head hitting the pillow. So sleep isn't the problem. The waking life is. I want too much of it. I want every second of it to toy with. I want to squeeze every drop from it, no matter how wasted that time inevitably becomes. So when I get into bed, my fight-or-flight instincts kick in. Sleep becomes a beast that wants to wear my intestines as a silly hat, and I'm armed with a sharp machete and a will to kill. The struggle in my head is one of those turbo-manly magazine covers from the '50s where a dapper gent is nipples-deep in evil ferrets.
It feels unnatural. I start to panic about potentially waking up too early. What am I supposed to do with that extra time in the morning? What do people do in the early mornings, anyway? Do they live and eat and talk like they do at night? Is there a special 6 a.m. handshake that I've missed out on? What if I wake up after a full night's rest and I'm still exhausted all day? My life would be ruined.
If you think that sounds weird, here's a little something you can do tonight to simulate what I feel like when I get to bed at a "reasonable time." Let's say you normally go to sleep at the totally respectable time of 11 p.m. Tonight, try getting to bed at 8 p.m. If by 8:01 your brain isn't clawing at the back of your eyes trying to escape, it means you've probably spent a great many hours meditating in buried coffins.
Thinking It's About Quality Me-Time
We love setting aside time in our day that's only for us. To just sit down in a warm sweater in our log cabin and stare at a frosted lake while sipping hot cocoa as Enya plays softly and then a deer pisses on our row boat, but who cares because it's me-time and that deer will rue the day it pissed on a boat, but later, not now, because me-time now.
Stupid thing doesn't even know how to rue.
Me-time is a real thing we should all indulge in a couple times a week to exorcise the rage cultivated from our days of being around other people. It veers off course, though, when it becomes a daily routine that you feel you absolutely need in order to function ... even though logic tells you that you'll totally be fine without it, and you're just good at lying to yourself. At that point, the problem isn't the world; it's you.
Only serial murderers who stare at their reflection for a while and then punch it need me-time that deep into the night. Over-exposure to me-time leads to holding it sacred, and anything that stands in its way feels like a personal attack. So when my girlfriend rightly suggests I stop doing my glossy-eyed nothing and instead lie beside her to get some well-earned sleep, my reaction is to fire back with an argument that boils down to, "Yeah, but if I don't go to bed at 6 a.m. and get 47 minutes of sleep, I won't be mentally equipped to handle the day."
It's the logic of a child: failed from the first word, because just opening my mouth and making a sound that can be interpreted as even a little defensive means I don't get it.
But, more than anything, the dumbest and most illogical part of staying up late is something I've touched on a few times already ...
Thinking There's Anything Worth Doing So Late At Night
"Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m." That's one of those folksy sayings that is regurgitated by people who would love to party all night with you if only they weren't condescending assholes unworthy of an invite. Still, there's a tiny shred of truth to it behind its insufferable smugness.
To anyone out there reading this who is also a chronic night owl, answer this question as honestly as your pride will allow: The fuck are you doing that's so important? How many times can you go to the same four websites and see the same shit before you realize you're living in a rerun of the shittiest episode of your life? Do you really think that when you're done with your five-hour Netflix marathon you're going to crawl into bed with a fulfilled soul, like you just spent all night building schools?
No. Staying up late isn't going to fulfill any of your life's needs, unless one of them is to be the annoying asshole at the office that's like, "I'm grumpy if I don't get my coffee! Ha-ha!" and then you drink the coffee and become a caffeinated asshole. At best, you'll be able to say you finished watching a Netflix show before anyone else. At worst ... well, fuck, you're the worst if you do that. Why would you boast about that? Sleep does fulfill a need, though. So snap out of it and go catch your sleep time before that sneaky bastard jacks a car and flees to Mexico.