Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Challenges To An Early Sleeper

Having reached the age of 44, I know that I upset people.  As a child, my name, where my family lived in the town, who my father worked for, the fact we did not attend church, the fact we had an old car, old furniture and a black-and-white television were all grounds on which people felt they could despise me, tell me they despised me and then punch me.  These days it is the industry I work in, my appearance, my qualifications, the fact that I have an enthusiastic manner and like to chat, that I either ask too many questions or insufficient questions, the fact that I am a white man, my lack of hair, the country I come from, the fact that I drive an old car and my view of politics that stirs people to get vocally upset at my mere presence.  Fortunately since reaching the age of 19 I have been spared the physical abuse which was once so common.

The strangest basis on which people get upset at me is the focus of today's posting, i.e. the time I get up in the morning and even more than that, the time myself and the woman who lives in my house go to bed.  It is the going to bed time that causes most upset among the people I meet.  You might argue that it is no-one's business what time I choose to go to bed and you would be right.  However, as I noticed on many occasions on this blog, these days much of the population of the UK feels it has a right to not only judge on a whole host of aspects, many of them very mundane, but to tell you explicitly of its judgement on your behaviour as if without their help you would never have noticed what you were doing 'wrong'.  Britain is the home of unasked-for advice; even random strangers in the street feel obliged and unshamed to come up to you and simply tell you the error of your ways.  They are aloud to be indignant but you have to be at minimum stoic and preferably grateful for them enlightening you.

Fortunately most people I meet cannot tell what time I go to bed.  However, colleagues can.  This is especially the case when you have evening events or they telephone you after you have gone to bed.  I had a manager two jobs back who found out that I am often in bed before 21.00 and sometimes as early as 19.30 and on that basis he felt I was unsuited to be sent overseas on work and that he was obliged to ridicule me about bedtime every time he met me.  The problem for these people seems to stem from the sense that only children go to bed early, so an adult who does so is juvenile and cannot be given responsibility.  There is still a lingering macho/macha attitude that you should have the stamina to work long into the night the way Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler were supposed to do, though the latter it is sometimes conceded, slept during the day to make up the time.  So early sleeping equals immature, unbusinesslike and weak behaviour; going to bed late suggests you are mature, professional, hard-working even exciting.

These attitudes are very culturally specific and of our era.  When the bulk of the population worked in agriculture, in the UK, sometime up to the mid-18th century most people rose and bedded down with the daylight.  The woman in my house keeps very much to agricultural hours, something like 04.00-05.00 to rise and 19.00-20.00 to sleep.  Her son, aged 10, nowadays goes to bed at 19.30 in the week and 20.00 on Friday and Saturday night, but it is difficult to keep him in bed after 06.00 in the morning especially with his mother awake and working.  Acquiring chickens has just added to this tendency in our house as they become impatient if still in their coops after sunrise and alert us to that impatience.  I am the late one in our house, getting up at 06.45 in the week (05.00 on Mondays) and sleeping in until 07.30-08.00 at the weekend.

Professions like farmers, bakers, market traders, the remaining milk deliverers all keep such hours.  Of course, shift workers have other patterns, working right through the night and sleeping the day or 'early' work something like 06.00-14.00 or 'late' work 14.00-22.00 which mean they have other patterns.  This all tends to be forgotten.  We are all middle class now, so the assumption is that we all work 09.00-17.00 and so rise no earlier than 07.00 and are happy to stay up until 23.00 each night.  Ironically, even working in an office, my day has lengthened and many people I know now do 08.00-17.30 meaning earlier getting up time and so an earlier time to bed.  Interestingly the 'lie-in' which seemed such a middle class luxury in the 1970s when people would not get out of bed at the weekend until 12.00 appears to have faded and remains a habit confined to students and other young people who have raved the night away.  Whilst late rising is no less 'unusual' than early rising, it retains a cachet of 'cool' whereas early to rise/early to bed just seems 'worthy'.

There are advantages in getting to bed early.  Some people, clearly the two other residents of my house, work better early in the morning. The shops are quieter in the morning and with extended opening hours, aside from on Sundays, there is no need to hang around for them to open, you can get out and buy what you needed before the masses reach the supermarket.  Perhaps you miss going out in the evening, but being unable to afford to eat at restaurants and being unable to sit comfortably in the cinema and theatre seats in my town I am not missing much that I would be able to do by staying up later.

Getting a decent amount of sleep, which is seen as nine hours for children and teenagers has regularly reported benefits.  A key difficulty is the noise.  In our district now that all tenants have to smoke outside, doors banging and loud conversations do not only go on in the evening but into the early hours of the morning too.  I am lucky, I fall back asleep easily when roused, but the woman in my house finds it far harder.  The noise does not have to come from your district, you have to make sure that friends and relatives know not to telephone. 

With recordable digital television and catch-up online facilities many of us 'time shift' our television watching anyway and it is far easier to try to access the latest episode of 'Sherlock' on the I-Player at 05.30 than it is at 18.30.  The only down side seems to be playing online community games as there are fewer people (though never none) to partner up with at that time of the morning.  Email which is my main form of communication for work and leisure is asynchronous anyway and it is rare that I am able to answer a phonecall when it comes in, it is far more common to have answerphone to answerphone conversations.

If we manage to go through with our plan of relocating to living on a co-operative farm, then the sleep patterns will be an advantage rather than something to conceal.  However, for now, having experienced the prejudice of revealing that you are in bed before the ten o'clock news comes, this is something that I intend to keep as secret from friends, colleagues and especially managers as much as I can.

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