2010.10.20 Battling the Night Owls

Written by David Green.


From the some-things-never-change department comes a visit back to October 1990 when I wrote about sleeping patterns.

It’s the same thing today. I go to bed “early” or what I would call “on time.” Colleen still stays up until all hours of the night. Actually, she’s much worse than she was 20 years ago when she was employed as a mother. Now, as library director, she knows no limits.

I like to think that her recent illness was her body telling her to go to bed, which she did, but I’m sure she isn’t listening anymore. Too much to do to get ready for the next program.

Twenty years ago I wrote about the kids and their sleeping patterns. I don’t think they’ve changed. None of us have, except now I’ve gone from battling the night owls to just one.

Battling the Night Owls

My eyes are made for darkness

So the night is right for me

‘Cause I’m a night owl, honey,

Sleep all day long

- James Taylor

I’m known as a morning person. Just ask my wife. To Colleen, anyone who gets up before noon is a morning person. Hey, back off! That’s just a joke.

She, by contrast, is a night person. Just ask me. Anyone who isn’t sleeping by 10:30 p.m. is a night person.

Marriage can bring together the strangest matches in personalities. Actually, we have plenty of similarities and shared interests except for this one impediment: the circadian rhythm or body clock.

There are scientists who stay up all night studying body rhythms. It’s either that or watch old “I Love Lucy” reruns. Those scientists tell us we’re locked into daily rhythms that affect our blood pressure, body temperature, hormone levels and sleeping and eating patterns.

When they tear away from “I Love Lucy,” the researchers make important statements such as this one I read: “Light appears to be the most potent factor in resetting an individual’s circadian rhythm. Light, through the earth’s 24-hour rotation, affects an individual’s behavior in the same manner Lucille Ball determines the vociferous attributes of Desi Arnez.”

But as the medical experts tell us, the demands of work and family don’t always allow us to live according to our body clocks. For example, on Mondays I change from a morning person into a night person and almost back into a morning person all within a 24-hour period.

Colleen, on the other hand, has Madelyn to care for. Although Maddy’s approaching two years of age, she hasn’t yet established her own personalized circadian rhythm. In fact, she seems to pick and choose at will, first borrowing some of my morning patterns, then switching over to the night owl routine.

There’s only one constant in her life: If Colleen stays up until one or two in the morning like a screech owl should, Maddy will be awake before eight the next morning. It never fails.

As for the other kids, Ben has the mind of a barn owl trapped inside the body of a second grader who hates to get up for school. I think Rosanna will end up on my side of the morning, but she’s still able to adapt well to either routine.

Taken as a whole, there’s another constant in the children’s routine: Any late-night problems—ranging from tantrums to throwing up—will occur on a Sunday night when I need a good rest for the Monday night routine.

There are methods of altering your natural schedule—using the artificial light of a television screen in a hotel room, for example—but overall, it’s dangerous to fight it.

Here are the words of a neuroendoctrinologist from Boston who was forced to stay up way past his bedtime three nights in a row during his research:

“The safety implications for this kind of disruption of the circadian timing system have not been fully recognized. Remember when Lucy fell through Desi’s conga drums?”

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