Peer pressure and the early riser

Okay, own up. Who of you gets up regularly before 7 AM?

For those of you who said, “Me!” which of you gets up at that time, not because of work or school scheduling, but due to your own volition?

If you still answered, “Me!” may I ask why?

I had an interesting conversation with a student the other day. She’s a university student living in her own apartment, and she told me upon meeting me that she was pretty tired. When I asked her why, she said, “I woke up at 6am this morning.”

Again, I asked her why- did she have lessons early? Did she have an appointment?

She smiled at me and said, “Oh, no. It’s just that morning is the only time I have to myself. In the late morning I have to go to class, I have club activities in the afternoon, and in the evening the boyfriend wants to hang out. By the time I get home, I barely have enough energy to take a bath and get to bed. If I want ‘me’ time I have to get up early.”

“So, what time do you go to bed then?” I asked.

“Around one in the morning or so.”

“So you let yourself sleep only five hours in order to have ‘me’ time?”

“Yes. It works pretty well, but that’s why I’m sleepy.”

This is a conversation that’s played over in my head a few times, purely because of how baffling it is to me. First of all, I was raised with the notion that 8 hours is the dream goal for sleep… if you’ll forgive the pun. And I’ve stuck by that rule as best I can- even if I’m unable to fall asleep, my butt goes into bed and stays there for eight hours. There have been studies done indicating that, even if you can’t actually sleep, the rest is helpful for your mind and body anyhow. Also, sleeping is one of my favorite activities, and I’m certainly not going to short myself on that.

In Japan, I’ve heard again and again that the dream goal is similar- 7 hours or so is what everybody wishes they could sleep. But time and again, I meet adult Japanese folks of varying walks of life–businessmen, housewives, university students- who regularly give themselves all of four or five hours a night to rest before getting up and going at it all over again. Even going a couple nights on 6 hours of sleep has made me noticeably irritable.

Another thing that’s baffling to me is how nonchalant people are here about the lack of sleep. In fact, waking up after sleeping so little appears to be a virtue. Remember the class I mentioned where we were discussing Valentines’ Day chocolates? In that same class, if someone were to mention that they get up at 5 am after sleeping all of four hours, everyone would ooh and aah appreciatively just as much. And according to the internet, that isn’t exclusive to my class of students, but a prevalent idea throughout Japan… and it’s related to work ethic.

Imagine you’re in the States and you see your co-worker has fallen asleep at his desk. The boss hasn’t noticed yet, but you know that if she does, your co-worker will get a stern talking-to. In some cases, you can get summarily fired for drifting off. If you like this person, you’ll likely shake their shoulder or otherwise try to wake them. People sleeping on the job is a definite negative, indicating laziness, lack of effort or focus.

Now let’s look at a similar situation in Japan: you glance over to see your co-worker is nodding off at their desk. It’s past quitting time, six or seven in the evening, and your own stomach is rumbling, but the boss hasn’t left yet and it would look bad to leave. You leave your co-worker to their nap, wondering how late they’ve been working lately. In this situation, it’s almost seen as a positive- you’re working so hard that you wear yourself out at your desk, and you physically can not continue despite your efforts to stay awake. This shows dedication to the job.

So you drift off at work, nap on the train on your way home, get into the bath and doze there, crawl into bed, sleep for four hours for real, get up, stagger onto the train, and do everything in reverse. And when people ask you what time you get up, you can proudly say you get up at six every morning and get approving nods because you are a Go-Getter for sure. Never mind that you need ten cups of coffee to survive, or if you end up sprawled across your desk because you wanted to close your eyes “for a second”. You’re certainly better than the perky co-worker a few desks down who admits she sleeps in until eight and gets something ridiculous like nine hours of sleep a night.

It’s a fascinating thing; I’ve experimented on telling people when I like to get up. When I say I get up at six, I get a soft ‘ooh’ and a deep nod. When I say I get up around seven-thirty, which is the honest answer, I get merely a nod of acknowledgment. When I tell them I get up around nine (which is usually the case on my days off), I get a more amused ‘ooh’ and no nod.

Finally, the last part of this that bugs me is that student thought she had to give up her rest in order to have any “me” time at all. Mind you, I don’t know what this student’s idea of personal time is- whether that’s video games or reading or jogging or assembling figures. All I know is that she feels that she has to give up one important thing- her sleep, and therefore her health- in order to get another important thing- her quiet time, and therefore her overall health.

No society is perfect in its’ ideas of rest and relaxation. Work hard, play hard is a similarity that Japan and the US seems to share, albeit expressing this in different ways. In the States it’s “get a lot done at work so you can go home on time and relax at dinner”; in Japan it seems to be “put in the hours at work all week, then put in the hours at a hobby all weekend”.

Considering where I was born and raised, it’s no surprise that my tendencies lean toward the former ideal. But I do see the appeal in the latter- a lot of improvement re: hobbies and hands-on work is simply showing up, after all. If you do that, a great deal of whatever you’re doing gets easier.

What’s your opinion on the matter? Would you give up sleep to have more “me” time? Have you already? Or do you consider sleep to be “me” time?

2 thoughts on “Peer pressure and the early riser

  1. I need sleep! But I do give it up to do things I really want to do but don’t seem to find time for otherwise (like blogging!). But when I say ‘give it up’ I mean cut back from eight or nine hours to six or seven. Any less than that and I’m a mess. I think sleep is non-negotiable below a certain level, but I guess what that level is varies a lot from person to person. It’s interesting… I think views on this might have changed over time… it seems now, in the UK at least, that getting enough sleep (probably 8 hours) is seen as kind of virtuous and admirable? Like it’s part of ‘having it all’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kirstie! That’s fascinating about how the UK views sleeping habits. I think in the States it’s a lot of “haha I wish I could sleep that much but y’know how it is” right now.


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