By Mark W. Danielson
In my job, my sleep schedule is as predictable as Presidential policy. Sometimes I fly during the day, other times, at night. I may cross as many as eleven time zones in one flight, which makes day and night irrelevant. Thus, regardless of where I am, I try to sleep when I’m tired and eat when I’m hungry.
Of course, there are always problems trying to sleep when the living normally play. In any language, “Do Not Disturb” translates to “Vacuum Here Twice”. Doors slam, maids talk, life goes on.
I spend far more time writing while I’m away because I have so many things to do when I’m at home. But it’s often difficult to do serious writing if my mind is in a fog. So sleep is cherished on layovers. Six hours of uninterrupted sleep would be wonderful, but my body normally doesn’t allow it. It prefers rhythm, not variety. And the caffeine I consume to be alert enough to land only works against me when I only have a few hours at the hotel before going back to work. Sometimes my body vibrates so much it feels like there’s a mild earthquake. The longer the flight, the longer it takes time to unwind.
I present this background not for sympathy, but rather to discuss an alarming trend of stupid and unwanted wake-up mechanisms. Recently, my hotel room had a fancy clock that was unplugged when I arrived. I plugged it in, but the time was off. I could see how to program the alarm, but not set the clock. Mind you, I can program an airplane’s computer to take me anywhere in the world, but this stupid box offered more challenge than it was worth. I did, however, make sure the alarm was not set to go off – or so I thought. Somewhere in my deepest sleep, I awoke to a disturbing sound coming from my alarm – the one I never set. I promptly unplugged the clock, returning it to its state of rest, just as it was in when I first entered my room. Why hotels use clocks like this one is beyond me. I have no idea what time it went off, but it was very difficult getting back to sleep before my phone alarm woke me at the correct time. Soon after, I was off into the wild blue, wishing I had gotten more sleep.
The next hotel didn’t have a fancy clock, and I actually had a night to sleep. I did pretty well, getting up a couple of times, shielding my eyes before the motion sensor light came on, and was able to get back to sleep. (I really hate these motion lights, but apparently Marriott thinks they’re cool.) My wake-up call came at 4 AM like it was supposed to, I went in the shower, and just as I’m washing my hair, the phone rang again. Thinking it could be a schedule change, I climbed out of the shower, answered the phone, and found it was another wake-up call. For some reason, this particular hotel has a system where the phone calls between five and ten minutes after your initial wake-up call to remind you that you need to get up. Oddly, the hotel knows nothing about this, but when I call the desk, they offer to send a tech up to my room even when I explain the problem is in their system. This has happened four times in the last few days and the answer is always the same. As a result, the people in the rooms next to mine not only get the benefit of one wake-up call, they get a second just as they are getting back to sleep.
Unlike my hotel neighbors, I try to be quiet when I leave so they can rest. I’ll forgive the kids that run down the hall screaming, the people talking and laughing outside my door, the toilets flushing and showers running, the horns and sirens blaring outside my window, and even though I’m tempted at times, I won’t slam my door when I leave in the middle of the night. I simply accept these disturbances as a part of my job, go fly with a little more caffeine, have no expectations of sleeping well on my next layover, but will unplug that alarm clock.
Most of us that work the back side of the clock believe sleep is overrated – that we catch up on all that’s been lost when we die. But the benefit of losing sleep is having more time to write. So with time now on my side, I’ll groggily bid you adieu and get back to my writing. After all, that’s what’s really important.