It was nearing 2 in the morning and I was sprawled on the floor of my friend’s college dorm room, sucking on a peach-flavored Lindeman’s and accessing Great Truths.
“I hate the idea of #sleep,” I said, with a vehemence I generally reserved for book-burning, date-rapists, and 9 am classes. “I hate the idea that we have to spend a third of our lives doing NOTHING, just, like, practicing for death.”
The other people on that floor murmured agreement. Then, it was someone else’s turn to be righteously angry about something (probably book-burning, date-rape or 9 am classes).
Back then, it was not unusual for me to subsist on an average of four hours’ sleep per night. During midterms and finals, I would generally pull a couple all-nighters in a row, fueled by prodigious quantities of instant Nescafe, and then celebrate the end of exams by going out till the sky turned taupe above Morningside Park. I proudly self-identified as a night owl, and seriously thought that I had some kind of superpower.
Turned out, the superpower is called “being twenty.” Oh, and also, “14-hour stretches of uninterrupted sleep on weekends.”
To be fair to my (admittedly irritating) younger self I did seem to require less sleep than most of my peers. “Sleeping” never appeared, even in jest, on my list of favorite activities. Apart from those 14-hour binges, I treated sleep as an irritating chore that I had to shoehorn into my schedule. I considered myself a Very Busy Person. (As an aside, a friend and I recently visited her nephew, a freshman in college. He claimed he couldn’t come out to have dinner with us because he was “too busy.” We laughed and we laughed.)
A little over a decade later, I was still a night owl, though I no longer waxed polemic against sleep as a concept. I still stayed up past midnight most nights. I still routinely got by on a few hours of sleep fewer than most people I knew. I could almost count on a certain pleasurable explosion of mental energies at the precise moment everything went dark and silent, and that feeling was worth a little daytime grogginess here and there. I still treated sleep as an afterthought, if not a chore.
And then, I got pregnant.
Between endless quips of “sleep while you still can!” and “you’ll never sleep again!” and “only five months, I totally thought you were at full term!” someone suggested that, because I seemed to require less sleep than some people, I would find #motherhood easier than most. And a tiny, wistful part of me almost believed that person. I blame #pregnancy brain.
My son is 18 months old, and if I count every good night of sleep I’ve had since the middle of my third trimester (when he began using my bladder as a scratching post), I would still have fingers left over. And sleep – uninterrupted sleep in a quiet room, on a comfortable bed on which no one has recently urinated – has replaced every other fantasy I’ve ever had.
Sometimes, when I catch a love scene on TV, the thought that goes through my head is: “And the best part is, she gets to sleep afterward.” Given the choice between a night with Jon Hamm and a night with Jon Lovitz, my only question would be: who would let me sleep longest?
They say youth is wasted on the young, and I always thought that “youth” referred to some combination of smooth skin, free time and absence of unexplained joint pains. I’m now pretty sure they were talking about sleep.