Up and raring to go at the crack of dawn
It was 8 a.m. on the East Coast. I was poised over my computer keyboard, stuck for an answer to a student’s question.
So I picked up the phone and called the guy who would know — a former colleague from ages ago who had become an expert in the appropriate field.
He answered on the first ring.
“Didn’t wake you, did I?,” I asked.
“Are you kidding?,” he replied. “I’m halfway through The New York Times.”
Did I mention that my former colleague lives in Seattle, where it was 5 a.m. when his phone jingled? Still, I didn’t hesitate to call, and I shouldn’t have. My friend is proof positive of something that all of us realize as we get older: We don’t sleep as much, or as long, as we once did.
Medical science can explain this very well. As our metabolisms change, our sleep patterns often change, too. We no longer always need eight solid hours of sack. Most of us get by with seven, or fewer.
And it isn’t just a matter of total hours of sleep in each day. As we age, we tend to sleep in chunks — five hours at night, say, followed by a 90-minute nap in the afternoon.
This it isn’t some wackadoodle new-age way to rewrite biology. It’s a matter of oldsters listening to their bodies. If five plus 1.5 is enough, we’ll know it.
But my pal in Seattle is proof positive of a theory I’ve been incubating for ages. Here’s Levey’s bid for a Nobel Prize:
Not only do oldies need fewer hours of sleep, but we are snap-crackle awake once we arise. And we tend to arise at hours like 5 a.m., unimaginable when we were teenagers and young adults.
After my Seattle expert supplied the answer I knew he’d know, I asked him how often he arises at 5 a.m.
“Every single blessed day,” he said.
Does he ever sleep later than that?
“I can’t,” he said. “I get ants in my pants at around 4:45. Don’t even need an alarm clock anymore.”
What about when he travels?
Doesn’t he leave a wake-up call with hotel operators if he has an early flight to catch, just to be on the safe side?
“No need. If I have to get up at 5, I’m up at 5.”
I told him I was exactly the same. Not only do I stir at 5 on the button, regardless of time changes, regardless of what I did or didn’t eat or drink the night before. But as soon as I’m awake, I’m ready to rock and roll.
I often lumber into my study at 5:02 a.m., right after teeth are brushed, and start to work.
Yes, I brew myself a coffee somewhere around 5:25, and then another at about 7. But that’s just a reflex. I don’t need the java jolt.
I’m running on pure energy until at least 9 a.m. I often tell my editors and clients that I do eight hours of work in the first four hours of my day.
My Seattle pal has his own Nobel prize-contending theory. He thinks that 5 a.m. sharpness is the Lord’s revenge for all those late hours we all used to keep during high school and college.
“We burned so many candles at so many ends that our bodies have had to compensate,” he told me. “Our bodies knew that all those all-nighters were unnatural. So they’re getting back to a kind of equilibrium.”
As good an explanation as any, I suppose. But I’ve checked with doctors and scientists, and they aren’t buying.
There’s never a single explanation for any aspect of the human body, one doc told me. Another pointed out that no two people are the same. “I’m sure I could find many septuagenarians who’d brain you if you called them at 5 a.m.,” this doc said.
Maybe so, professionals. All I know is that I’m writing this long before the sun comes up. No coffee. No alarm clock. No sweat.
And as soon as I’m done, I’ll call my pal in Seattle and read him these pearls. If he doesn’t answer on the first ring, I’m a monkey’s uncle.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.