Saturday, March 24, 2012

The early morning zip

Tonight, I'm going to go to sleep. Tonight, I'm going to go to sleep early.

When I was in high school I had this tendency to take post-dinner, pre-homework naps. I would finish off my meal pretty late in the evening after doing a portion of my homework, watch a bit of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and fall asleep. A peaceful end to the day, no?

Not at all.

A few hours into my sleep, I'd wake up feeling flustered and angry, annoyed that I still had work to do and even more tired than I was when I first sat back to watch Comedy Central. There was still so much to do, and I would have to do it after a couple hours of napping and with only a few more hours leftover in my evening.

To this day I struggle with the question of whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous naps, or to take arms against a sea of work and by opposing end them, permitting me to sleep. Despite the To Be or Not to Be rhetoric, this isn't a hard question to answer at all. Mortality may be difficult to face, but our nightly sleep is not something we should trouble ourselves about.

Which is why I came up with a solution. But not until some time had passed during which I practically ruined myself trying to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to do work.

Once I arrived in college, I tried really hard to break the habit of sleeping in between meals and homework. The lethargic pleasure of having finished a meal made this endeavor even more difficult. I would often do frivolous activities like watching a movie or surfing the internet prior to doing homework, only further encouraging myself to fall into an overfed stupor, where carbs turn directly into a crash rather than from energy into a crash.

I combated the problem for a while by getting my homework done earlier in the day. But as my extracurriculars grew more prevalent, my homework more voluminous, my willingness to do anything productive more strained, I had to find another alternative.

So what else is there besides doing your homework far in advance and doing it when you're half asleep?

I discovered the early morning zip.

The term "early morning zip" is a phrase I coined two seconds ago which refers to those few hours in the early to mid-morning that are more productive than any other span of time in any 24-hour period. Roughly from 7 am - 11 am, if I manage to wake up and devote myself to work for this four hour space in time, I can get about as much done as I would staying up an entire night.

And it's due to one very important factor: wakefulness.

I've always been a midday nap kind of kid. When I've driven back with my family from trips to Las Vegas or to San Francisco, I was always the loser who called shotgun but never kept the driver company. Instead, I would fall asleep about half way through the trip and then wake up as we were nearing home. The only sound in the car was my heavy sleepy breathing (I used to wheeze as a child, how lovely) competing with the radio. In the battle with FM and AM, I was always the victor.

This is why doing homework in the afternoon has never worked for me. Even in tenth grade when I took Chemistry after lunch, try as I might to remain coherent I would fall asleep half way through every lecture. Much to my own disadvantage, I always chose to sat in the center of the classroom. Luckily my teacher still liked me despite my apparent drowsiness.

Nighttime, as well, has never been a good time for me to perform productive tasks. As a child, my entire personality would change once 9 pm struck. I was no longer happy and peppy. No matter what the day was like, by early evening I was acting like everyone in the world was my enemy. Crankiness did not begin to cover it.

And I still have a problem with feeling both extra loopy and extra displeased in the evening when I know I'm not going to have the luxury of going to sleep at my leisure.

In sophomore year of college (this year), I decided to take the natural approach following these two guidelines. Step one of the approach suggested that I should not do homework in the afternoons (particularly after classes) when I am feeling more nap-friendly than staring-at-a-paper-friendly. Step two kept me from staying up late to complete homework due to my tendency to become an evil sleep-deprived monster come 9 pm (maybe it's more like midnight nowadays).

Credit: Denise Lu, Photoshop Extraordinaire
Thus, the early morning zip was born. The happy compromise came to me one day when I woke up for morning cartoons and realized how absolutely awake and productive I felt. It was 7:15 am and I set my alarm assuming I'd turn it off and reset it for 8:30. But, defying expectations, I forced myself to awaken and drag myself to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face.

And alas, there in front of the communal bathroom mirror stood a girl who was no longer subject to the seductive comfort of her warm extra long twin bed. This girl was awake and ready to do anything from watching The Magic School Bus to writing a ten-page paper on the economic status and policies of the United Kingdom.

In time, I learned that what might be four hours of work after lunch could turn into a two-hour project in the morning. Somehow, I became Wonder Woman at sunrise, whereas at night I reverted back to being the terrible complaining damsel in distress.

We should all be so lucky to find a portion of our lives during which we can devote our attention to the tasks at hand without making ourselves go crazy. I've heard of and known so many people who stretch themselves thin at the worst times, leaving them feeling like zombies the next morning.

Last year in my dorm suite I remember walking out into the hallway to use the restroom at around midnight. I saw a girl working on her laptop, staring intently at the dimly lit screen.

At 7 am I woke up to start my day and walked into the hallway again. She was still out in the suite, still staring at her screen, still presumably working on some journalism flash or Photoshop project. I couldn't help but pity her for never finding the morning strength that I have found.

I hated the feeling of being tired while I worked. I hated the feeling of being cranky while I studied. So I found a compromise. And though waking up early sometimes feels worse than poking yourself repeatedly in the eye (and sometimes it feels awfully similar, e.g. when I'm putting in my contacts), it's a better feeling once you're awake to be refreshed and finishing off important work, than putting it off until late in the evening when you're more interested in bed than in good grades.

The moral of the story is that morning is superior to all. The end.

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