Shift #38: Is it Time to Change Your Schedule?
Over the past several months, I've struggled with getting a decent night's sleep. I wake up several times a night. I know this has to do with natural shifts in hormones and that some of this can be addressed through diet, exercise, routine, and all of that. I've considered alcohol, caffeine, and sugar intakes as possible influences; thought about how much exercise I get; cut back on evening computer time; acquired tea for sipping right before bed. Those all have varying degrees of effect, none of which is hugely successful at solving the problem. Going for a long walk with our dogs in the evening has been one of the best things to help my sleep, but those walks are not as appealing in the dead of winter in Minnesota.
Anyway, the sleep disruption has been much worse over the past couple of months. And that makes me crabby and less creative. It makes me forgetful and less fluid. When my partner, who tends to wake up somewhere between 5 a.m. and 5:45 a.m. no matter what, rolls out of bed a mere hour after I've finally gotten back to sleep for perhaps the third or fourth time in one night, it makes me want to choke him.
So, it was a gift when, during my partner's last business trip out of Minnesota, I adhered to my own schedule of late night reading and t.v., and voilà: an entire night's sleep, uninterrupted (as far as I remember). I got up at my usual time after going to bed about two hours later than on most weekdays.
Then a new idea struck me. After nearly 20 years of sleeping with the same person and compromising my own natural schedule to coordinate with his for the sake of family harmony, my body is telling me that my sleep program needs to be adjusted. We don't have little kids in the house anymore. We don't have to lose sleep on purpose. I realized that, over the summer, I was on a different sleep routine because I did a lot of chauffeuring for our teenaged daughter who didn't have her driver's license yet. I slept better with the late night schedule. My partner would wander off to bed, always asking me if I was really okay with staying up to get kids where they needed or wanted to be. And I was. I loved it. He was perfectly happy to not have to drive anyone anywhere. We were a good team.
Then I started thinking about all the other things we do that fit someone else's schedule. That is part of being in a community - shifting things around so that everyone's needs get met. What can be shifted and what can't? How do we recognize the difference between a schedule that really doesn't work well for us and a schedule that we simply don't like for no good reason? My daughter hates getting up in the morning, but that can't be helped when she has to go to school. My partner naturally wakes up very early in the morning, and that works well for him. He doesn't even need an alarm. I sleep better if I go to sleep later, which gives me the gift of time to myself late at night, and I can still get up early enough to do what needs to be done.
And what about creative work? How often do we have to shoehorn that into a schedule we didn't choose versus finding a time that suits our rhythms and letting someone else fit around us? That question depends on a lot of factors: whether we have children, whether our creative work actually pays the mortgage or if it's supplemental, whether our work requires input from someone else, if the space we use to do our work is ours alone or shared or public. And this is a slightly different question than the one that often comes up for writers about getting a regular schedule. Sure, regular is good, but is it "your regular" or someone else's?
Consider, the next time you get stuck in your creative work, if it isn't time to change your schedule. Pick new work hours for yourself. Give it a few months and evaluate the impact on your life. And if changing your creative work hours is not an option, what can you shift? There's always something.