July 22 2017

Finding Normalcy as a Night Owl

by Wendy Crosby, Loyola University Chicago

A lit interior window at night

I never thought I would become a night owl. I was never one to pull an all-nighter, and I refuse to let a sleep deficit build up. But, here I am, staying up past 4 a.m. and sleeping past noon every day of the week. I've seen the sunrise before heading to bed more times than I'd like to admit. This crazy schedule allows me to balance doctoral studies with the moments of married life I value most. The life of a PhD candidate can be hard, but almost no other job or position would allow me this kind of flexibility.

My husband moved, jobless, to Chicago while we were still dating because this is where I got into a doctoral program. He soon landed an internship at a law firm that turned into a full-time gig in their proofreading department. After a series of layoffs and firings, my husband's job was pushed back to a rather horrendous 7 p.m.–2 a.m. shift with a 45 minute commute on public transportation each way. In the winter, he hardly sees daylight. And, in almost any other position, I would hardly see him.

Instead, I see him every day because I made the decision to voluntarily live on his schedule. I work when he works. It's insane how easy it actually was to turn my whole life upside down—to become a creature of the night. Since I am graduate student, finished with coursework and on a fellowship, my flexibility is the stuff of dreams. Most of the full-time faculty don't want to teach those late afternoon classes anyhow, and my students are always incredibly impressed with how quickly I answer their 1 a.m. e-mails.

The decision came down to which I value more: my natural sleep/wake cycle or seeing my husband. Put that way, the answer is easy. We've been married two years, and I have answered the question, "How's married life?" countless times since then. (I quickly learned I needed a prepared answer to this question that is creative, yet relatable and short.) My answer is always that I most enjoy sharing the little moments of the day that we had never before experienced together. Things like making coffee, planning the grocery list, or brushing teeth. When my husband's schedule changed, I was at risk of losing all of those moments that I had come to cherish so much. I realized how much I valued those moments—those drops of normalcy that held my day together. I also realized that I didn't have to lose them if I was willing take advantage of my situation and let my values determine my schedule.

There are obvious downsides. My life is out of sync with society, and my advisor is a morning person. The university library closes early in the summer, and the coffee shops are all closed by 10 p.m. year-round—right in the middle of my work session. The theology department closes at 5 p.m., which is before my work-when-he-works day has started. Happy hour falls at the beginning of my work day rather than the end. On Friday nights when my husband comes home and we shift to leisure time, even the bars are already closed. I miss daylight.

The upside is my home life. Sharing those mundane moments with my husband makes everything else worthwhile. We roll out of bed at the same time and make each other coffee. We share a kiss and the stories of the day when he walks in the door at 3 a.m. We go to bed at the same time wishing each other sweet dreams.

For now, this works for us. For now, normalcy requires becoming a night owl.