Why you want to sleep longer when you can't, and can't sleep longer when you can.

Answering a question from the mailbag.

Over the last few years I have repeatedly flirted with the idea of doing an advice column at Mother Jones, but I’ve never gotten further than soliciting questions. The result of this is I have a bunch of very old questions I never answered. What is this supply if not an opportunity for content?

Question: Why is it that I always want to sleep in on weekdays when I can’t? Then on weekends when I can, I wake up early?

Answer: You really hate your job and every weekday morning you wish you could avoid it as long as possible, but on the weekends you don’t have the threat of that experience and the only thing you have to do when you wake is deal with your own feelings and own reality, which is also unbearable to you because you’re a constitutionally unhappy person.

So why can’t you sleep longer on the weekends? Why does it feel like you could on weekdays and can’t on weekends?

There are two possibilities:

1) This isn’t actually happening. On weekdays you are waking up and immediately thinking the grass is greener in a world where you can sleep in, where you don’t need to start making coffee and get on with the drudgery of being an adult and having a job. You have low level resentment about this five days a week about this and after months and years it take a larger prominence in your mind than it deserves. You think it is a fact that you wish you could sleep longer and that you can’t because of work, but if you didn’t work you could and you would be happy, because you sure as shit aren’t happy now. That must be it! If only you could sleep longer all the ills of your life would be reduced in size until they were manageable. But in reality the difference between waking at 8am every day and not 9am is not the reason you are generally an unhappy person. You know this, so you think that maybe it’s that you have to wake up at 8am but would really like to sleep until 1pm. That’s a bigger difference. You obviously cannot sleep until 1pm in virtually any full-time job, unless you work as a bartender or something that requires you to stay up until the wee small hours. So then the reason for your unhappiness is that you have sleep problems that require a sort of dispensation—one you know you won’t get; one you’d never ask for—that would let you sleep way late and allow you to be cheery and happy. And then on the weekends when you can sleep in, you don’t, and you have to figure out why. Maybe it’s because you’re used to waking up early. This is convenient because this means you can also blame the circumstances of your job. You’ve been trained to wake early and so insidious are your weekday obligations that they haunt you on the weekend. You are not totally deaf to your own biases and you try to test them. All you have are your experiences though. You remember how when you were younger you could sleep until the cows come home. The main difference between then and now, you think, is your career. But you forget another key difference: when you were younger you were young. You were maybe in college, maybe in high school. You had a completely different biochemistry. Young people can sleep and sleep and sleep because they are growing. You are not growing. And so on Saturdays and Sundays you find yourself waking when you normally would, and you hate it, and you try to sleep longer, and you come in and out of consciousness for as long as you can keep up the charade. The result is that you think every weekend morning about this multiple times, because you are slipping in and out five, ten times a morning! Both of these experiences—waking early on the weekdays and being unable to sleep longer on the weekends—take up more of your mind than they should and lead you to the false conclusion that you would sleep longer on weekdays if you could, and can’t sleep longer on weekends when you can. The fact is: you actually are not someone who sleeps late.

2) You’re a budding alcoholic who drinks too much on Friday and Saturday night and you’re waking up early the following mornings from dehydration. This is bad but on the other hand within a few years you will be a full blown alcoholic who will be waking up from dehydration on weekdays as well.

If you would like to ask new questions that are not years old please send them my way.