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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Age and the Shifting of Circadian Rhythms

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

As long as I can remember, I've been a nightowl.  My perfect day was defined by a mid-morning wakeup and a bedtime that lay beyond the boundary between yesterday and tomorrow.  Of course, life has a way of not bending to one's druthers, hence every job I've had up to this one has forced me out of bed as early as 4 a.m. (still the middle of the night by any measure).   

A decade ago, the bosses at the factory where I was gainfully employed insisted on rotating us to an off-shift once a month. Usually because of staffing levels, that meant working third shift.  Having children at home, that was for me the shift from hell.  Circadian rhythms mandate that when it's dark outside, humans should sleep.  Daylight was a time to be up and active.  Our children were of the active type (if you hear silence, better go investigate) so it was nearly impossible for me to be able to sleep during the day.  So when I returned to work that night, I was already tired and ended up fighting sleep all night long.  When you're working around machinery, that's a dangerous state to be in.  As the week wore on, I got even more fatigued.  The last night I worked that schedule, I actually fell asleep driving a forklift with a one-ton load of steel.  I remember entering the drive lane at one end of the plant, and then suddenly I was at the other end.  I was  danger to myself, my co-workers, and the plant's equipment.  I parked the truck, shut down and cleaned the presses I was running and went home, leaving a note for the day supervisor.  Back on day shift the next week, I had a long talk with the leadership who agreed that it would be best for me to rotate to 2nd shift, which they were willing to do.

Ironically, three months later, they stopped the rotations altogether, only asking us to volunteer, which I did.  For 2nd shift.

When I left the blue collar world behind for my third career, this time in the Intelligence Community, my first position didn't require me to be at my desk until 8:30 a.m.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  When that agency closed and I was relocated to the DC region, I was put on a shift that ran from 1 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. from Wednesday through Saturday.  Now I was in Heaven.  

Then a little over two years ago, I began exercising religiously.  I would arrive at the workplace around 10-ish, go run until 12, then showering and changing, and eating lunch in time to begin my duties at 1:00.  About two months ago, the schedule changed again.  I would work the same days, but my start time was cranked back to 10 a.m.  In order to get there in time to get my run in meant having to be up at 6-ish, fight the heavy traffic which stretched my commute from 35 minutes to an hour and a half.  These delays compressed the time I had to exercise, forcing me to cut my runs short.

So on the advice of a friend of mine, I still got up at 6, but instead did my running at home before leaving for work.  This did two things. I had time to finish my runs, which were now in the plus-5 mile range, and by the time I was ready to leave for work, around 9, the rush hour had ended.  The only downside is that running through suburbia is kinda boring after the interesting and picturesque routes I had near work.  But with some creative routing, I found some routes that were at least moderately interesting.

So now, I find myself willing to crawl out of bed at 6 in the morning and crawl back into bed by 10 at night, something that's never been part of my personal rhythms.  Today was Monday usually a day for me to really sleep in.  There's always been something beautifully seductive about thinking of those poor commuters lined up on I-95, I-495, and I-66, all crawling into work while I continued to snuggle under the sheets.  But even without the alarm, I still came awake just before 7.  I tried to go back to sleep, but that insistent part of my brain where the guilty conscience lives continued to prod me back to wakefulness.  Realizing I had lost that battle, I rolled out of bed, got dressed, took my pills, and hit the road.  

I guess that makes me a morning person.  For now, anyway.  I can only hope that this will be a temporary affliction, and not something that will become a chronic condition.  But I fear that as my years advance, what was comforting tradition is likely to be changed by the shifting demands of my aging mind.

So, this nightowl has become an early bird.  But I don't want the worm.
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