If I could change just one thing about myself, I think I would change my sleep patterns. The reason I would pick this is I believe if I could change my sleep patterns I would buy back enough time in the day to tackle all the other things I would like to work on for myself. In a book by one of my favorite fantasy writers the main character goes to a Chinese herbalist and receives a tea that lets her obtain 8 hours worth of rest in 4 hours sleeping time. As a bonus, it increased the amount of energy she needed so she could eat more. Now that’s my idea of a fantasy!
I am one of those people who really, truly needs 8+ hours of sleep every night. I can get by for a few days on 7, but I start feeling it and getting headaches before a week is up. I can function for about one day on 6 but only if I have been getting enough sleep before that. On those nights when I get five or less I make it through the next day groggy, aching and irritable. I typically use weekends to catch up on sleep, or at least I did before becoming a parent. Honestly, I am still not sure how I made it through internship when I regularly worked for 30 hours or more in a row. Perhaps it worked out because I was younger then, or perhaps the anxiety of the situation kept me going. Ditto making it through the earliest weeks of parenthood; I think I was just so jazzed about having a baby that I was able to cope. It also helped that my daughter seems to have inherited my sleep needs and started sleeping through the night early on.
To add insult to injury, I am not a morning person. I never have been. I can remember being a young child and my mother waking me up by pulling me up to sitting and hugging me and rubbing my back for 10-15 minutes until she was sure that I would not fall asleep again. When I started using an alarm clock to wake myself up I started struggling with being a few minutes late to everything. All through high school, college, medical school and residency training I played games with my alarm clock to try to be on time. I’m the person who sets her clock 10-20 minutes fast, and I have to change it periodically so I don’t adapt too much. I’m the person who will hit snooze 10 times before I finally get out of bed. Yes, I’ve been told that isn’t good sleep, but it sure feels good to me to spend that extra time in dreamland. And even when I get up in plenty of time, I find myself distractible and unfocused enough for the first hour after waking up that I have trouble getting myself out the door on time.
This is a profound mismatch with my chosen career as a doctor, particularly a doctor who works in a hospital. I have learned that hospitals seem to be run by morning people, or at least it is morning people who are establishing the schedules. I would, if given my choice, prefer to work from 11am until 8pm or so and then stay up until midnight and sleep in until 9am. This is not at all compatible with the hours my hospital requires. I routinely have 8am meetings and so ideally I need to be at work by 7:45am at the latest.
All of this leads to pinch points in my life. Morning exercise doesn’t work for me. Actually, morning anything pretty much doesn’t work for me on a consistent basis – exercise, meditation, bible study and prayer… it all falls victim to my wish for more sleep. I keep my hair and makeup super simple and my work clothes border on casual. My daughter looked at me one morning and told me I was wearing play clothes and insisted I change my outfit. She’s three, mind you! I limit myself to items that are no-iron and easy to grab out of my closet and wear a white coat at work as a quasi-uniform. I dream sometimes of looking like one of my colleagues, who is always dressed very fashionably and professionally with perfect hair and makeup, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just not going to be. Most days, using all my tricks and keeping things simple, I make it to work just barely on time. Which I really dislike, because I don’t think it’s professional or a good example, but haven’t yet managed to change on a consistent basis. I’ve been fortunate that my willingness to work hard and stay late when needed have always made up for my lack of early arrivals, but it would be nice to be that person who arrives 30 minutes early and starts the day completely organized.
I feel this mismatch in my life especially strongly after a stretch like the past twelve days, when I have been on call and working every day and getting less sleep overall (and more stress). Thank heavens it is Friday today and tomorrow I can sleep in (well, three year old permitting, anyway) and take it easy in the morning. I’m telling you, I need to sleep!