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Sleep Cycles

Finals’ week is a good time for a quick essay. It’s probably a particularly good week for an essay on sleep.

Sleep is an interesting thing. We all need it. Most of us don’t get enough (or at least most of us at Grinnell don’t seem to get enough.) We all seem to approach it a bit differently. Some of us are morning people. Some of us are evening people. I’m interested to see how my sleep has changed over the years.

When I was young, I was definitely a morning person. I’m pretty sure I was up by 6 a.m. each day, as did my mother. My father got up before us in the morning [1]; mom said that was because he wanted to be awake enough to deal with two energetic morning people when we bounded down the stairs. By high school, I was usually out the door by 7 a.m. each morning for the 1.5 mile walk to high school [2].

In College, I’m not sure what my sleep schedule was. Staring in my second year, I worked the graveyard shift at the central users’ site (aka Usite [3]), from midnight to 6 a.m. I’d then come home and make myself breakfast to wake myself up, usually some high protein thing like a hamburger and grilled onions [4]. I spent most nights at Doc films. I’ve tried to remember when I slept, but I don’t quite remember. That’s probably a good indication that I didn’t sleep enough.

When Michelle and I were newly married (two years after I graduated; one year after she graduated), I was back to a more reasonable sleep schedule, and I was again the morning person in the house. And I feel like I stayed that way for awhile.

About a decade ago, when we revamped the CSC 151 curriculum, I stayed up late most nights trying to finish writing the daily readings and labs. And then I got up early in the morning to go in and teach. I don’t think I had have too much of a problem with it at the time, although that’s probably another false memory, since I do know that I came up with one of my slogans at that time: It’s not burning the candles at both ends that is so much the problem; it’s the blowtorch I seem to take to the middle. Of course, that was also a point in my life in which I would fall asleep in the middle of meetings [5] and eventually got diagnosed with both hypersomnia and sleep apnea.

In any case, I’ve always thought of myself as a morning person, and I think I’ve generally been a morning person. But this past few years I seem to have changed. Even when I try to go to bed early, I find myself reading in bed until 11pm [6]. And, even though I get up at 5:30 a.m. to drive youngest son to swimming, rather than starting my work day, as I did in the cases of my prior two sons, I crawl back into bed. I struggle to get out of bed later in the morning, and I sometimes sleep in until 10 a.m. on weekends [7]. I think I’ve become an evening person.

But I liked being a morning person. I’m going to have to find a way to go back to my old self [8]. I know that a few of Grinnell’s alums are working on things related to sleep [9]. I should probably see if their tech will help. I should probably also write my essays earlier in the day. Other suggestions are also welcome!


[1] I originally wrote my father beat us up in the morning, but I think that could be misinterpreted. (He woke up before us is the correct interpretation.)

[2] And yes, I walked uphill in both directions. That’s hard to avoid when there’s a hill in the middle.

[3] It appears that USITE still exists. However, it seems to exist in multiple locations. The room that I think was the old USITE (in Wiebolt?) is now a classroom. I should ask someone to take pictures.

[4] Don’t you feel sorry for my roommates? And perhaps my classmates?

[5] And, way too frequently, Ira Strauber’s amazing Constitutional Law class. I’m amazed that he put up with me.

[6] Do you read in bed? is one of the Michelle’s and my list of questions every couple should ask each other before getting married. It’s not so much that you have to have the same practices; it’s that you have to be ready for whatever the other person’s practices are. Do you prefer to sleep with the window open? is another one. Maybe Michelle will eventually remind me of the others.

[7] At some point, I’ll probably also write an essay on the joy of sleeping in.

[8] No, not the self who never slept. But the self who went to bed at a reasonable hour, got up early, and was energetic when it awoke.

[9] Nediyana Daskalova ’14’s [10] Master’s thesis work was on sleep habits and technology for helping change them. Tony Stubblebine ’00’s whole focus is on helping people develop better habits. I should check in with them. Or maybe they’ll read this and check in with me. I should probably add both of them to the list of Grinnellians to profile.

[10] When I place the class year after an alum’s name, and make it a possessive, where does the apostrophe ess go? Should that be Nediyana Daskalova’s ’14 Master’s thesis? No, because that would suggest that the thesis was in 2014. I guess I made the right choice.


Version 1.0 released2016-12-14.

Version 1.0.1 of 2018-05-16.