As an undergraduate in college, I had early morning classes and often stayed up too late studying, though only twice did I pull an all-nighter where I went a full twenty-four hours without sleeping. The two summers I worked on a kibbutz in Israel, I was up every day before 4:00 AM and on the days I had to work with chickens, by 2:00 AM. Even with the mid-day nap time—when between two and four every day the entire nation of Israel crawls into bed to sleep (and even the stores and buses shut down)—I never seemed to feel rested.
In graduate school at UCLA I was lucky to see an average of four hours of sleep every night, what with working full time and going to school full time and commuting two hours and more every day on the LA freeways. Then there were the times I had to pull extra shifts at work, including the one nightmarish Christmas when I was at work a full twenty-four hours. At least I got paid triple time for some of that.
As a parent there have been those times when I was up with my children for half the night—most memorably when my firstborn daughter became ill her first Christmas Eve. We spent most of the night with her as she battled a high fever.
Even now, with two daughters in college and one a senior in high school, I feel as if I never get enough sleep. I arise too early and stay up too late. Multiple nights each week it seems that I find myself awakening more than once in the middle of the night, sometimes because of a bad dream, other times for reasons that I can’t figure out. Even on Saturdays, when I have hopes of sleeping in until I just naturally awaken, I find myself crawling out of bed due to feelings of guilt—“look at the time, it’s nearly nine, what are you going to do, waste your whole day in bed?” Or my wife, or one of my children, suddenly needs me to catch a bug (I refuse their demands to “kill it!”: instead I catch it and put it outside). Or “daddy, can you feed me?” Or “I need the ice chest, can you get it out of the garage?” Or “I can’t find my notebook, can you find it for me?” Or some such thing.
It is not, of course, anyone else’s fault that I don’t get enough sleep, or that I don’t get what I perceive to be as enough sleep. I could go to bed earlier, and I could take naps during the day. After all, I’m an author, I work from home, and none of my editors can see what I’m doing. So long as I meet my deadlines, they don’t care if I’m sleeping or partying all day long. Produce! If I can do that, nothing else matters.
Last year when I spent time with my parents and I asked them how they are sleeping. They told me they sleep well, very soundly, and have no trouble with it at all. My sister told me the same thing. It’s generally a family trait that we sleep soundly and uninterruptedly.
I have memories of that sort of sleep.
In fact, it seems as if it has always been just memories. Even my wife has commented that I don’t seem to sleep as well as I used to. And I can’t help but agree. On our two week long honeymoon at Lake Tahoe, so many years ago, I spent the first week mostly asleep. This was my first break, my first vacation, after four years of undergraduate study and three years as a graduate student at UCLA—three years of full time work and full time school with never more than an average of four hours sleep a night. So on my honeymoon, my body attempted to overcome those three years of horrible sleep deprivation. Never since, have I consistently gone with so little sleep. In fact, I currently average at least seven hours per night. But for some reason, it still never seems to be enough.
I wonder if, after all these years, I still just have not recovered from my years at UCLA? Or maybe, when my children are done with school, and they are living their lives without me, maybe then I’ll finally be able to sleep?