Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Larks and Owls – of diurnal clocks and circadian rhythms

As I drag my sleep deprived keester out of bed, at another ungodly hour, on yet another promises-to-be-very-long day, in response to the insistent chirping "mama, mama, mama" of my very own little lark, I ponder the eternal mysteries of the diurnal clock and the biorhythms so heavily programmed into every creature.

Some people are larks, some are owls. Some are naturally morning people, like my little monkey or her father, who always wake up really, really early, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and raring to meet the world running! (shudder shudder horror horror). And then there are the owls, like yours truly, for whom anything before 9 am is sheer torture. The larks are day people, rising with (or before) the sun, and practically going to bed with it too (at the same time as the sun that is, not WITH the sun :D… no hanky panky implied hahahahaha).

My daughter is almost four now, and her favorite schedule is to stay awake all day, go to sleep at 6 or 7 pm, when its getting dark, and sleep through the night till 4 am. And it's not just today. When she was a few months old, at a stage when babies nap all day, she wouldn't. Instead, she would fall asleep at about 6 pm, on her daily pram ride through the neighborhood, and sleep through the night (barring feeding calls of course).

My man is a bit like that too. 5 am and its "hello world!" He is physically incapable of staying in bed once that happens, and insists on pottering around the house with the baby, the two of them singing, dancing, doing homework, and playing all kinds of specially invented dad-daughter games. Come 8 pm, both father and daughter are drooping in tandem, eyes red, reflexes slow, and moods shot to hell.

Me, au contraire, … a complete owl. I never relish the thought of waking early, ever! Even if I do, it takes about 20 minutes, and multiple doses of caffeine before I am functioning on all cylinders. I really begin to wake up after sunset. The later it gets, the more alive I feel. Suddenly the world swims into sharp focus, and everything – every sense, every experience, takes on a new dimension. Brain starts buzzing, creative juices flow, and the party animal wakes up to sniff the air. Dancing till the wee hours? No problem! Reading all night? Can do! Talking and arguing and laughing till the east lightens and Divakar shows his face? Yippy yaay!

My brother, and best friend, is the same. So, we have always had great times in the middle of the night. Going to the nearest all night coffee shop for a cuppa at 2 am, or driving to Mumbai “just because”, its all part of the night owl syndrome. There was a time, for about two years just after I finished my Masters, when we slept all day, woke at 3 pm or so, stayed up all night, and went to sleep around 7 or 8 am, when daylight strengthened. And it was amazing! Some of my best work, poetically at least, got done during this phase, and a lot of fun was had by all.

All night laughathons at the pride hotel coffee shop were common, with the waiters looking on mystified as a group of 8 or 10 young people tell jokes by turn, desperately scribbling key words or phrases on the table mats to remember the next one till their turn rolls around again, and dissolving in fits of laughter all over the tables! Someone would suddenly suggest we go to a different place for the next round of coffee. Where to? Let’s drive to Lonavla for coffee! So off went a cavalcade, for coffee and alternative thinking mind games, to Fariya’s!

Where larks see the ethereal in the beauty of the morning, I find enchantment in the city of the night. A completely different city seems to spring out of the ground after midnight. As traffic starts to trickle down to almost nonexistent, the city pulls on a cloak of mystique. Bustling markets turn into enchanted shadowlands, and choked, frenetic streets become the wide promenades of jiamata and her entourage.

Every city I have ever lived in, no matter how ugly by day, looked fabulous by night. Driving down the streets in the halogen glow of lonely street lights, it is practically impossible to believe that this is the same city I have struggled with all day. All the frustrations, the angst, the sheer battle of city life melts away, and suddenly I am back in some magic land of my childhood dreams where turning the corner might bring me face to face with a dragon or an angel. The possibilities are virtually endless, and the sense of adventure is exhilarating, sending the adrenaline pumping by the quart through my veins.

There’s an additional factor to my love of the night too. I HATE heat. I am happiest at temperatures close to zero centigrade, and anything above 27 or 28 is sheer torture. I sweat like a pig, feel put upon from every direction, and find myself unable to function. No matter how hot the day has been, nights are cooler, even if marginally. Just the relief, after a day of being slowly steamed in my own sweat, is enough to enhance my love for the night!

The exact opposite is the case with my man and my little princess. They wake with the magic of the sun in their eyes, and begin drooping as it sets. They love the freshening of the day, (so do I, on the rare occasion I see it. I love the morning too… it’s the day that gets to me :D), and their metabolisms begin to slow down post sunset. Once daylight leaves the sky, both begin to look like un-watered roses. And by 10 pm, they are firmly ready to be off to la-la-land.

Parties at our house are weird. The evening begins with everyone bright eyed and wide awake. By the time all the guests have arrived, which is usually after 10, daughter is ready for bed, and man is only staying up because it’s rude to go to bed before everyone gets there. By midnight, both are fast asleep, leaving me to happily hold down the fort till the last guest leaves at 5.30 am, which is when baby is waking up!

Things can change though, and diurnal clocks can be adjusted and retrained. I wake in the mornings now, to send the hordes on their way to school and work, and go to sleep at a halfway decent time in order to be able to do the same again the next day. And it works, after a fashion. I function in the daytime. I get work done. I even create, in a way. But, having been completely nocturnal once, I know the difference even if others can’t spot it. Its like having the wrong prescription glasses. You can see fine, except the really fine print, or things in peripheral vision. Things seem just a wee bit out of focus and fuzzy, and its only after you put on the right glasses that the world swims back into sharp focus and you know what you were missing!


  1. I've become more tempered these days and do like the occasional diurnal phases. It seems you can be in-sync with the rest of the world. But this undoubtedly contrasts with other phases when it's all night. (And really what can compete with that post-sunrise early morning sleep. Nothing quite like it. I tend to think even all the traffic noise etc. helps city noise, white noise. Satisfying.) Similarly, a lot of business gets done over a business day.

    The other thing that happens with long nights now is that it does stand at ends with eating schedules. Unfortunately, never can force the body to eat as much (or rather as many times) as you can in the day/evening. This means problems for the acidity. Compounded by the reliance on Caffeine sources - intrinsically acidic.

    I have decided that as in other things I am going to be a man-of-phases...

  2. It seems after reading this, I invented myself to be a nocturnal one too. My life starts at the evening, when I open my laptop, (since my wife takes control over the T.V.), and then the whole world opens up through internet