I never used to sleep.
A few years ago, pre-relationship and before having my own family, I would often stay awake until morning. Two or three hours of sleep was common. Four hours would feel like a full night. I might’ve gotten five or six hours one night a week as a way of catching up. During that time, I wasn’t particularly busy; it wasn’t me being dedicated to the grind, though I had been through that before and would go through it again later. I just couldn’t sleep. I didn’t brag about this fact because I wasn’t proud of it. I was actually ashamed that I wasn’t more productive with the extra waking hours. Instead, I would listen to music or watch movies—nothing beneficial. Sometimes friends would text me at 3 AM because they had just woken up, and for whatever reason, thought to send me a message. The first few times they’d hit me, they were surprised by my quick response. These messages would eventually become more frequent, and though I’m not sure whether or not a response was ever expected, I’m certain they were relieved to know they had company in the middle of the night.
I didn’t realize until recently that this was a very unhealthy period of my life. My sleep habits were obviously trash and so was my diet: I didn’t cook and only ate takeout (usually the worst kind) with no consideration for how greasy or fattening it was. Full size hoagies from the corner store several times a week, Five Guys two times in a day, daily trips to the bakery, entire cakes I’d eat by myself. I didn’t maintain relationships and at times, I even avoided family. Though I valued people, I didn’t value their friendship. It just wasn’t something I felt that I needed. I’d go as far as to hang out with someone on a few occasions and then never again. The effort of going out and talking to people was too much for me. What could I possibly get out of it? So I would go days without speaking. Aside from my lack of relationships, I also didn’t see a point in working or making money, so I quit my job. I was so far gone that I would rather deal with the consequences of not working, including the loss of my apartment. I was ready to live out of my car until I figured things out, but fortunately for me, my family intervened and wouldn’t let me go out like that. I ended up shamefully moving in with my sister who is two years my junior, her boyfriend, and her two-year-old son. I lived in their spare room, built more for an office than a bedroom, for about eight months before moving in with my mom for another month. I was depressed, although I didn’t know it at the time. And while depression can cause sleeplessness, insomnia can also contribute to pre-existing depression. My staying awake at night was making a bad situation worse. Not only was I depressed, I was also fatigued and lacked focus.
Though I was awake at night, I wasn’t doing anything important. Each night felt like a waste of time. Once I started working again, I suddenly had a reason to stay up. I used the night to be more productive. My new job, though unstable with inconsistent pay, was more entrepreneurial than a traditional 9-to-5, so the amount of money I made was often impacted by the time I put in. Because I wasn’t sleeping, I had time to spare and didn’t mind working through the night. Foolishly, I believed that rest was a hindrance rather than a necessity for healthy existence. In retrospect, the work that I was doing wasn’t worth the sacrifice, but because I didn’t feel successful, I didn’t think I deserved to get a full night’s sleep, even if I could.
As I was adjusting to working again, I was also reviving old relationships. I reconnected with my best friend Tara after not speaking for half a year. In the next half a year, we began dating. We never stopped. In another year, she was pregnant, and Tara, her four-year-old daughter, Madison, and I were living together. With Madison living with us, I got a crash course in taking care of a child. Around the time Tara was seven months pregnant, I had just settled into a full-time job. I was trying to do the responsible adult thing, leaving behind a world of inconsistent income and freelance work, which meant I no longer had projects to keep me up at night.
The night before our daughter, Neon, was born, I didn’t close my eyes at all because I was anxiously cleaning, assembling furniture, and getting the house ready—trying to brace myself for fatherhood in the next few hours. Tara and I left the house early in the morning and while I should’ve been tired, I was way too excited for my body to consider rest. A few hours after Neon was born and we were settled in our hospital room, I dozed off and was soon knocked out on a thin convertible chair. Tara still teases me about how it was as if I was the one who gave birth. My last true nocturnal night was the night before Neon arrived. Her first day here, I slept like a baby (probably better than her), a surprise to even Tara, who remembers those middle-of-the-night texts years ago. It felt like I transformed into a different person overnight. In what seemed like an instant, I went from being single and isolated to having my own family. I was used to not having to care about or for anyone and then all of a sudden, I had three people I wanted to take care of. For the first time ever, my life revolved around my relationships. Everything I did was for them. The transition is almost too poetic to be a coincidence.
It’s as if my insomnia said its final goodbye because it knew I was embarking on a life where we could no longer kick it. I couldn’t afford to not have energy or not be focused. Being a new parent is hard enough as it is. I’ve had relatively healthy sleeping patterns ever since, not counting our infant’s erratic sleep schedule that included waking us up too, because that’s what babies do. Since Neon’s birth three years ago, my life has done a complete 180. I have better relationships. I see my family more than I have since I was a kid. I eat better. And I sleep more than I ever have in my adult life. At 30, I’m not in peak physical condition (yet!) but I may be the healthiest I’ve ever been. Getting that daily recharge plays a huge role in that. There are days I feel drained and after a night’s rest, I wake up replenished. It’s hard to imagine a reality where after a long day, instead of resting, I stagger through the night into another day.
I haven’t made any drastic lifestyle changes, nor have I developed any specific routines. I’m not certain how much the act of sleeping itself has improved my quality of life, but I can confidently say that my life would be much worse without it. It gives me the energy I need to take care of my family. I’m thankful for every night I’m able to get a full night’s rest.
Originally submitted for Issue 8 of Undo Magazine.
WRITER: Sean Beauford