Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The times they are a-changin'

Trying to control when a person sleeps is an exercise in futility. Anyone with children knows that. How many of us tried to get our baby to 'sleep in' by keeping him or her up late the night before? What you end up with is a cranky baby who still wakes up at 5:30am and whose naps are all messed up for the day, as is your sleep.

Additionally, messing with sleep schedules leads to a Pandora's Box of issues one may not have considered before opening the box. It is easy to see how sleep deprivation was used as a torture method...I'll say anything if you'll just let me go to sleep.

My friend Claire once said, "You can mess with my meals, you can mess with my husband, you can mess with my kids, but don't EVER mess with my sleep." Claire is the best mother I have ever known. I consulted her endlessly when Son 1 was a baby. She has raised four phenomenal sons and has a wonderful marriage. Her advice is priceless, and so when I heard her warning about messing with her sleep, I knew I had to take heed. She was only half-kidding. Sleep is critical for everything else falling into place.

I'm a big fan of sleep. Back in Portland it was a standing joke among our friends that I would be the first to call it a night. Our good friends, Geoff and Katrina, were the complete opposite of that. After years and years of working in the restaurant biz, they were accustomed to keeping a bedtime well past midnight. For them, it was nothing to stay up until 2:00 or 3:00 am. Fortunately Husband is able to stay awake and be a fun person, so Geoff and Katrina remained our friends despite my midnight-onset of narcolepsy.

That being said, I was also an early riser every weekday. I would wake up at 4:00 or so and enjoy the hours of solitude before I had to wake the rest of the family. My routine was to get up, go to the kitchen and turn on the radio, which was always on NPR. The BBC World Service was on until about 5:00am, so I'd get the world news first. I'd start my coffee and then I'd listen to Morning Edition as I unloaded the dishwasher, folded laundry, packed lunches, and sometimes prepared stuff for dinner (like browning ground beef, or starting something in the Crockpot.) I need to get into a productive routine like that here.

The last week of October was when we set the date to move. We had about five weeks. There is an eight-hour time difference between Portland and England, and it occurred to me that I could really get a leg up on the time change by moving my wake-up time a bit earlier each day.

One morning when I was up at 3:30, Husband opened his eyes and asked me what the hell I was doing up. I shared my plan with him. His reply: "That's just nuts. Don't do that to yourself." What did he know? I'd show him. By the time we moved, I'd be on the new schedule, and I'd be the one who was able to get the family accustomed to our new time zone. I'd be the pleasant, smiling mommy with a plate of pancakes and sausage, waking the family with the wonderful aroma and gently nudging them into their new schedules. Waking up at 8:00am in England wouldn't feel like waking at midnight if your mom was up and going, showing you how great it was to be awake. Or so I thought.

What I didn't take into account was the fact that I had only five weeks to pack, ten days of which Husband was going to be in England. So I began staying up later, purely out of necessity, to do all the things I had to do before we moved. Suddenly I was getting three hours of sleep a night. The last three nights we were in the US, I slept a total of six hours. I was the kind of tired you don't know exists. Worst of all, my plan to hit the ground running on UK time was down the toilet. Or the loo, if you please.

So after our journey, we arrived in the UK at the beginning of the next day, meaning we left early in the morning on a Wednesday and arrived early in the morning on a Thursday. Our bodies were saying WHAT THE HELL??? We were eating at bizarre times, sleeping (or not) at bizarre times.

We had to live in a hotel for the first week, as our house wasn't ready for us yet. We couldn't check into the hotel until after lunchtime, so we had a few hours to kill. Most importantly, according to Husband, we HAD to stay awake. I knew that he was right. Sleeping now would only perpetuate the misery of jet lag. Muddle through the first day and go to bed at the local time. Easier said than done.

It wasn't the first time I had dealt with the eight-hour time change. In 2004, Husband and I came to the UK for two weeks on vacation. We landed, I hung in there and stayed awake. I adjusted in a day or two. However, the insanity that preceded this arrival was unprecedented. This time we had the children with us, too. As resilient as they are, they can't be yanked about like that without consequences. My biggest concern was that they'd be run down and catch a bug, so I was even more militant about handwashing. Let me just say that is not exactly what an exhausted child longs to hear.

After the horrid, heinous, hideous, hellish experience at the car rental place (described in a post to follow this one) we were all in the car and on our way out of the airport. We had to find something to do that would keep us awake and could cast a positive light on the day. We ended up in town, walking around, having a meal and finding places at which we wanted to get a closer look at a later time The boys were hanging in there, staying awake with the promise of going swimming as soon as we checked into the hotel.

By the time we checked in, things had taken a turn for the worse. We were all SO tired. The boys didn't even want to swim. They actually pleaded for a nap. I was so tired I was twitching. Seriously. I was seeing mini-fireworks in my peripheral vision. It was going to have to be Husband's call, because I was circling the drain and needed to sleep as well.

I'll spare you the subsequent conversation, which started on a contentious note and ended with surrender. In my head, I knew that we were advised to stay awake, but the rest of me was not ready to comply. I'm ashamed to say that I was ready to take the easy road, not necessarily the correct road. Fortunately I didn't have to make the choice. Mother nature worked in our favor and we were able to take a short nap, because once Husband sat down on our comfy hotel bed and turned on the TV, he was a slave to his own instinct to sleep. I was more than willing to go along with that plan, as were the boys.

The hotel staff (Holiday Inn Chester South) were superb. They were aware of our situation and had set-up the room with the boys' beds already arranged and made. So we all had a power nap. It was difficult to wake up from the nap, but the nap certainly made it easier for me to embrace the idea of staying awake for eight more hours and to help the kids do the same.

If I ever get the opportunity to write a book, I'll have a lot more to say about the sleep adjustment. If nothing else, it was a tremendous learning experience. I'll just sum it up by saying that getting adjusted to the new time zone will take a lot longer than you expect. It's apparent to me now why people are so zapped when they return from a trip. It takes that much time, if not more, to adjust.

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