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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Escaping 9 to 5 Chronicle Part 2

8:00 am

This is the worst part of my day: the part where I am too quickly pulled from what could have been a decent and restful night’s sleep, if only I could have had a few more hours.

My main problem, perhaps, is that I’m not a morning person. Never have been, pretty damn well never will be. It’s not that I haven’t had opportunity to try my hand at the morning thing. In high school, I did early morning jazz band for two years, getting up while it was still dark at 5:00, before god wakes up. Of course, I was late often, missed class entirely on occasion, and decided I was going to quit come 12th grade. But then they made jazz band an actual class during the school day, so I didn’t have to quit. And that was a good thing, because I had the most fun and grew the most as a musician during that year.

Of course, high school is a very sleep-deprived time for most people. The reason for this is that teenagers operate under a different circadian rhythm than adults and younger children. They are wired to get up later and stay up later. Younger kids, on the other hand, are wired to get up early and stay up early. It’s claimed that adults are like younger kids in this respect, but in my experience that isn’t true.

So, it would make more sense if elementary school began before middle school, and middle school before high school. Actually, it would make just as much sense if they all began together, but for budgetary reasons involving a paucity of buses, the school start times must be staggered. And instead of following the logical sequence dictated by the sleep cycles of the kids, the schools follow an age cycle, oldest kids first, youngest last. This is presumably a tactic to keep younger kids away from bus stops during dark morning hours.

It’s unfortunate, though, because kids get very sleep deprived during the high school years, and to a lesser extent in junior high. They must get up early, but they have a hard time adjusting to going to bed early enough to make up for the early morning hours. Why? Because the teenagers’ biological clocks keep them alert later in the evening, even if they haven’t been getting enough sleep.

I’m not a sleep expert; I’m just reciting what little information I remember from researching the problem of sleep deprived high school kids for my high school newspaper when I was a senior. That was a long time ago, but it was a problem I definitely felt needed addressing back then; and I still think it’s a problem today.

A little side problem is that because high school kids have to go to school so early, they get out of school super early too: for most kids two or three hours before their parents get home from work. That gives kids plenty of time to get into trouble. This is a side problem that I think is unfortunate, because by solving this problem, the sleep problem would automatically be addressed. But maybe that just makes too much sense.

Anyway, I don’t think I ever grew out of my teenage circadian rhythm. My biological clock still keeps me alert in the night, so I stay up later than I should for someone who gets up between 7:30 and 8:30. (7:30 when I’m actually ambitious enough to visit the gym before work.) And this is a problem, because it means I get a little deprived of sleep each night, and sleep deprivation is cumulative. So all the little amounts of sleep deprivation add up to a large amount of sleep deprivation that remains until I’m able to make up for the lost hours. At least, that’s what the sleep specialists say, and I’m inclined to agree. That’s why a weekend isn’t enough to make up for it, because I get an extra four or so hours compared to what I usually get, but maybe only one or two of those go toward making up for the 5-10 hours I lost during the week. The other two or three hours are hours I needed for those weekend nights anyway.

And that, my friends, is why most 9 to 5 working people can relate when people say they feel like a zombie at work. I feel like one most of the time, and I’m willing to bet you do too. That’s also why it takes a good two weeks of straight time off before you really feel like you regain your balance and are ready to tackle work again. But who can take off two weeks straight? When that’s the average maximum allotment of vacation time for an entire year for American workers, not many people really want to blow it all at once, and most probably wouldn’t be allowed to.

So here we have two major problems with 9 to 5 jobs: (1) sleep deprivation and (2) inadequate vacation allotment and allowance.

When I was working five to six hours a day, before I got my full time job, I had neither of the above problems. I stayed up as late as I wanted, sometimes well into the wee hours of morn, and then I woke up naturally, usually between 10:00 and 11:00. I rolled into work around noon and stayed until five or six. I didn’t have a lunch hour, but I did bring a lunch which I snacked on all day. And actually, this was a good way to regulate my metabolism by keeping it burning all day with small amounts of food. So it was easier for me to feel energetic and maintain my weight as well. I didn’t have to go to the gym in those days. And I didn’t feel like I needed vacations, but sometimes I would take a day off here or there, and once I took a two-week road trip across the country, an experience that I’m extremely grateful to have had. I never felt guilty for taking this time off. We had an understanding that I worked on my terms. And I was a very valued and loyal employee.

I wasn’t rich, but I was happy. I had something that was much more valuable to me than money: time.

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