It’s 5am and my eyelids are finally beginning to droop. I don’t have insomnia or a pressing deadline. The yawns are colossal and coming closer together. I fall asleep with my laptop balancing precariously on top of me, episodes of Lost still autoplaying on Netflix.
Halfway around the world Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has just gotten ready for another day at the office, after going to bed at a responsible 10pm. Arianna Huffington, Editor in Chief of The Huffington Post, has gotten the 8 hours of sleep she swears by in her 2016 New York Times bestselling book The Sleep Revolution, which urged people to “sleep their way to the top”.
I awaken at 10am, groggy and exhausted. The weight of my MacBook Air presses against my ribs, and I utter a silent prayer of thanks that it didn’t slip onto the floor and snap in the middle of the night. With eyes half-closed, I carry it to the safety of my desk before returning to sleep for a few more hours.
I’m well aware that the early bird catches the worm; I’ve often wondered how much more productive I could be if I adopted a more normal sleep routine. But I don’t have the self-discipline to change the innate desire of my body, which is to begin my seven or eight-hour cycle after 3am.
The Australian Sleep Health Foundation tells us that some people with a screwed up internal body clock suffer from delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), a disorder that sets circadian rhythms out of sync with the socially agreed norm. Ron Grunstein, a Professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Sydney, analogises DSPS to living in disparate time zones: “it’s a bit like your body is in Sydney, but your brain is in Perth. It’s awake when your body should be sleeping.”
Grunstein confirms that DSPS can be the result of genetics. “People who’ve got it often have relatives who’ve got it,” he says. Everyone’s internal body clocks are different, but most people fall in the middle of the spectrum, going to sleep between the hours of 11pm and 7am. Whether you’re an early bird, or a night owl, you’re influenced by your circadian system. Often sleeping is taken as a sign of laziness, but for many there’s a case for scientific cause.
Fellow night owl Melanie Kim*, a law student at the University of Sydney, tells Honi she also stays up until sunrise for no reason other than personal preference. We are both filled with self-reproach, blaming our teenage-selves for screwing up our sleeping patterns.
“I had this terrible sleeping schedule during the Higher School Certificate. I would take like a 3 hour nap in the afternoon and then stay up late and sleep again for a few hours before going to school,” she says.
“I don’t do that anymore, so I feel like I’ve improved! Maybe that’s a low bar.”
My own sleeping schedule was disrupted in Year 10,, when I challenged myself to stay up all night just to prove to that I could. It was a silly idea that seemed reasonable at the time because it meant I could finish all of The West Wing… As years rolled on, I found myself falling asleep in class, yawning tears even when I wasn’t tired, and nodding off on the train and missing my stop.
When Facebook tells a friend that I’ve sent my message at 5.26am, recipients often ask curiously: “what do you do when you stay up so late?”
“I just find [that question] baffling,” says Melanie.
“I don’t do anything that requires I stay up late at night. What I do, for example, from 12 am to 4 am, is probably the same thing that someone else does from 8 pm to 12 pm. These days, that’s mostly procrastination.”
Late at night, in a dark room lit only by the blue light of my laptop, I can feel so at peace with the world. If you’ve ever driven home alone while the city is asleep you are probably familiar with the same sense of magic. Sometimes, it means getting three or four hours of sleep and walking around the next day feeling like a truck has hit me. And sometimes, if I’m lucky and have nothing pressing to attend to, it feels like the whole world is at my fingertips. Or at least, the entire Netflix library.
* Names have been changed