02 February 2012


Most people have variations on a routine for making the transition from sleep to feeling ready for the day.  The variations come into play depending on whether it is a work day, a weekend day, a day laden with plans, or no plans at all.  

Since I retired, my mornings have all become alike.  My natural circadian rhythm (see image above, click to enlarge) has always featured staying up late (midnight or later), and awakening late.  My sleep cycle isn't as bound by daylight as the cycles of others seem to be.  Perhaps my brain lives mysteriously in a different time zone (somewhere in the mid-Pacific?).  During most of my life, the exigencies of arriving at work on time played merry hob with my late-late cycle ~ especially when the particular job might require getting up at 3 a.m., or 5 a.m., or 11 p.m.  When you work swing shift, or graveyard shift, or 24 hours on and 24 off, sleep is a catch-as-catch-can proposition.

These days I need about three hours before I'm ready for the world.  I awaken slowly, spending time feeling warmly enclosed under the covers.  The cats know not to disturb me, and are usually content to curl up next to my legs.  The penalty for agitated meowing-to-be-fed is a squirt from the spray bottle.  Kitties hate being wet.

Gradually the physical discomfort of lying down for too long (thanks to a herniated lumbar disk and arthritis in my shoulders) overcomes my languor, and I'm reluctantly able to fling back the covers, don sweats and a t-shirt, and feed the cats (who are no doubt thinking, "It's about ****ing time.").  Then it's straight into an hour of physical therapy ~ stretching and strengthening exercises for those parts of my body which have been abused by an active life.  Ankles, knees, back, and shoulders received particular attention, as well as developing my core body muscles for overall strength and posture.  I like to listen to classical music during this time, and the cats enjoy the music too ~ they sit facing the speakers, ineffable smiles on their faces as they attentively digest.

The next part of therapy overlaps with hygiene ~ a hot shower, shaving, lotioning, attending to the superficial ravages of time.  My cats are included in the routine ~ I brush each of them thoroughly right after the shower, and they thrive on the grooming and the attention.  Pleasure for all.  We emerge to the last phase of the morning ritual ~ checking emails, checking the news feed on Facebook and Google+, then spending up to 2-3 hours on the day's blog entry, depending on how much research, editing, and illustration are required.  After that, finally, I'm ready to enter the world of other people.  Or not.

I was tickled to discover yesterday that one of a handful of science writers who serve as my lifeline to current events has a similar late-late sleeping cycle.  Here is what Andrea Kuszewski wrote in one of her posts ~

"And this, my friends, is why I like being left alone in the morning when I'm getting ready or beginning my day.  I like a L O N G period of peace and quiet right after I wake up.  I feel so validated [by the article].  :)

(cites article)

[later in the conversation thread] ~ "I try to wake up several hours before I need to leave;  that way I can have coffee, meditate, listen to a little music, perhaps, or just zen out for a while.  I absolutely can't tolerate people shouting and rushing me in the AM.  I go from zero to stabby in about 3 seconds."

I laughed at, and identified with, the 'zero to stabby in about 3 seconds' observation.  The article she cites, by the way, applies to those whose routines are forced into an unnatural shape or pace by the time demands of work or other schedules.  Why Morning Routines Are Creativity Killers posits that flexible, open-minded thinking is most likely precisely when we are feeling relaxed and unfocused.  The author documents the physiological effects of a more stressed morning, and proposes the approach which Andrea and I have adopted, independently of each other ~ slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the morning last.

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