Before I start today’s post, I must disclose. I sleep some, but not enough to think and walk at the same time. My 11-month-old still nurses through the night. I get up when she cries at night because I want her to fatten up and grow long. And, she is my precious baby after all. So, against medical advice (my physician sister-in-law looks out for me– she thinks I need more sleep), I sleep some and figure, someday I’ll sleep more. And besides, I can always find a chair to land on if I feel a thought coming.
It turns out, you don’t need a set amount of sleep at precise intervals to think original thoughts. Creativity scholar Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi found highly creative people work with their bio-rhythms. They arrange their lives to sleep when tired but work when they’re sharp– regardless of hour. My current baby-controlled schedule is not ideal ( i.e., running a 5k this morning seems impossible) but it’s not horrible for creativity. I’ve had plenty of brilliant insights in between mid-night naps (unfortunately, I don’t always remember them by morning) and I’ve found my sharpest hours seem to fall between 1:00 a.m. and dawn (if, I’ve slept early and deep the previous three nights). I’ve made peace with my sleep issues and continue. My good friend Jennifer says, In a year, things will be different. She’s right. I can imagine longer nights a year from now.
Some friends– a high-flying London couple, are about to have their first baby. She’s a novelist. He’s a club DJ by night, international lawyer by day. Their spacious Hackney flat has plenty of space for the gear they’ll need and they both love kids. They’re more than ready; they’re giddy non-stop with anticipation. There’s only one small problem. They love their current party-almost-every-night, sleep in, work late and do it all again life rhythm. Last time I visited them, the guy asked,
Do kids HAVE to go to bed early? I mean, that doesn’t make sense. My sister is adamant. She says, Just wait. You’ll see. Kids HAVE to go to bed super early. It’s just the way it works. But why would that be? I mean, as long as they get the amount they need– you know, like 8 hours, or whatever. Right?
I don’t know. I suppose you could convince your baby you live in another time zone– you could carry around a full-spectrum light lamp in your diaper bag and shine it on your kid’s face at sundown. And shut the blinds in her room in the morning, so she still thinks it’s night. That shouldn’t be too hard– days are pretty dark here in London anyway. I don’t know. I haven’t tried it.
I don’t remember where our conversation went from there. But now (two years later) I wonder if they’ll try to make the baby adjust to their time. Will they lug her around London’s night-scene in a sound-proof bassinet? I doubt it. I think the novelist will nix any exceedingly silly plan. But she is pretty flexible and does like to try things out.
In any case, the man’s question is a good one. Do babies need to sleep when 7:30 p.m. hits wherever they are? I’ve always stuck to a traditional bedtime. But, I’d love to watch the London couple trick their baby into sleeping exactly when they’d like her to sleep. If they pull this off, they should write a book and I bet it would hit the bestseller list on Day 1.