People suffer from all kinds of sleep ailments rooted in all manner of different causes, some medical, some not. A lot of things which have nothing to do with medical dysfunction can cause insomnia, for instance.
Too much coffee? Maybe. Worry? Maybe. A book you couldn’t put down? All too often. Poor bedtime habits? In some cases. Bourgeois fascist social standards? You betcha.
That’s my category of insomnia: bourgeois fascist social standards. Because without them, I’m not sure I would suffer from insomnia at all.
You see, while I’ve lost a lot of sleep and you could call that insomnia, mainly what I suffer from is difference. My biological clock is set differently from day people and this difference controls biological response to things like daylight. The difference exists, as Chinese studies have shown, at the genetic level.
Yes, Margaret, there’s a gene for what I’ve got. But there isn’t one for the bourgeois fascist response to it, which begins its propaganda campaign in the nursery.
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
Wrong on all points.
Healthy? There is no evidence that sleep has more benefits at one time of day than others. If you’re getting enough sleep, it doesn’t matter whether you sleep early or you sleep late. And the unhealthy aspects of what some people do when they stay up late derive entirely from what it is they do, not when they do it.
Wealthy? Actually, recent studies suggest night owls out-earn morning people. I would suspect it’s because night owls are more adaptable, as studies have shown, and because—as I address in my third point—they can work longer hours with less loss to cognitive function.
Wise? A recent study showed that night owls are measurably more alert after being awake fourteen hours than morning people. While morning people’s minds are shutting down, night people’s minds are still popping along on all cylinders. One of the reasons that night owls can’t sleep, evidently, is because their minds burn hotter. And since having an active mind is positively correlated with intelligence, that suggests that night owls as a class are smarter than morning people. And staying up all night reading books probably doesn’t hurt, either.
So why do people insist on the early to bed, early to rise mantra? Well, because it works for farmers and our assembly line civilization, and it works for those whom it fits. If you’re the square for whom a cubicle is built, then bully for you. But if you are not, then you’re going to have to live a life of adjustment. For people whose genetics are not synchronized with early worms and larks, what it all means—and what it has meant for me—is a lifelong bout of insomnia.
But I don’t lose sleep because I can’t sleep. I lose it because social forces say that I have to adapt to other people’s natural schedules without my own biological differences being taken into account. Adapting to other people’s schedules means that from naptime in kindergarten all the way to—I suspect—feeding time in the old folks home, biologically different people like me are not allowed to sleep when they want or rise when they want. I have lost sleep over an entire lifetime because morning people are accepted as the norm and the genetic separateness of night owls like me is discounted altogether.
But just as an ill-fitting shoe can deform your foot, an ill-fitting schedule can deform your sleep. That is what has happened to me. A lifetime of ill-fitting schedules, a lifetime of actually losing sleep—and suffering from it—has made me wary of losing sleep. Whenever something, anything, is scheduled, therefore, the fear of not getting enough sleep will by itself prevent me from sleeping. Insomnia is the inevitable price of my well-grounded fear of insomnia.
What began, you see, as a difference in waking and sleeping time, a genetic difference like the kind which determines hair colour has, because of faux bourgeois morality which does not recognize my kind of difference, evolved over a lifetime into a full-blown sleep disorder.
Yet for all that, my situational insomnia is still only a symptom. (I call it situational because I ordinarily have no trouble sleeping when there is no schedule to interfere with it.) The root of my problem has never been that I was different; it has always been that my difference was not accepted. Literally, discrimination has undermined and unbalanced my natural sleeping patterns and affected my right to healthy sleep.
What has happened to me has happened in one form or other to a lot of people like me, and some of those people have suffered health effects as well. Will the situation change? Given the economic forces behind the standardization of everything, not any time soon.
But a good start would be to stop pretending that rising early or rising late has anything to do with morality. Being different is not a moral issue.
But forcing people into an unnatural conformity without a proper recognition of differences–like forcing a size eleven foot into a size nine sneaker–can cause a lot of unnecessary pain. And causing people unnecessary pain? Now that’s a moral issue.
And then see this: