Waking Up Is Hard to Do

It takes me a long time to get going each morning. No matter when my cell alarm vibrates, I press snooze at least three times before I can fully gain consciousness and know for certain that I am here, in my bed, not hugging a newly planted tree to protect it from a group of strangers who want to rip it out of the soil.

A relief to know I’m not stuck in those early morning dreams. But then there’s the matter of getting up. My body is always stiff, my hands often a bit swollen and my mind is sluggish. In winter, as steam heat slowly rises in our radiators, all I want to do is lie there under the blankets and stay warm.

The first step is, literally, always the hardest. I know my joints will feel better once I start moving, so I roll myself up to sit on the side of the bed, let my normally low blood pressure adjust, then push up onto my feet. This entire process, from first alarm to standing upright, takes about a half-hour. I just have to plan it into my schedule.

Some of this morning sluggishness is due to my scleroderma—unless there’s some kind of emergency and my adrenaline blasts me out of bed, I simply cannot accelerate quickly from zero to even 30 mph.

Some of it also has to do with not getting quite enough sleep. I know I should get to bed earlier, but I’m hooked on the Daily Show and Colbert Report to have a good laugh before turning in. If I were wiser, I’d watch the night’s episode online the following evening. But it’s not the same, and, besides, I prefer bandaging my finger ulcers, a 20-minute process, while watching. It’s become my evening ritual.

Even when both shows are in reruns for yet another vacation hiatus, I’ll find a different reason to stay up too late, like finishing the Sunday Times crossword or watching episodes from the first season of Mad Men.

But mostly, my slow morning trajectory just is. When I used to commute every day to Boston, often an hour-and-a-half drive in morning rush hour, it was extraordinarily hard to get up early enough to beat the traffic.

Now, working for myself and being able to set my own schedule, I have more flexibility. It’s a mixed blessing—the feast-or-famine stress cycle of finding clients for my marketing consulting is offset by the freedom of knowing I can get a few more minutes’ rest in the morning if my body just isn’t ready to move. I set appointments for late morning and early afternoon to maximize my attention and alertness, and work after dinner, as needed, to put in a very full day.

Which is why I stay up until midnight to let my brain unwind, and why I have trouble getting up in the morning. Recently I read an essay by William Zinsser, one of my writing heroes, describing how he used to get to his office at the New York Herald Tribune around 10 o’clock each morning. It made me feel better. At least I’m in good company.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.


  1. Patricia Bizzell says:

    Arthritis presents me with some of the same challenges in getting out of bed in the morning, especially if pain in my knees has kept me awake during part of the night. But I have a feeling that many adults do not get enough sleep for one reason or another. Certainly, our days are too crowded, and there just has to be some time to unwind and let our minds do something relaxing that has no professional or social benefit! Then there’s the need to socialize; where do we fit that in? When I was living in South Korea last fall, I often found myself out at the local expat bar late at night, when I was already exhausted from a long day of teaching and a 90-minute commute, just because I wanted to see my friends and hear English spoken and laugh at jokes I could understand. I saw my friends there more often than I now see my friends here!

    I think it is also true that many people do not take the need for sleep seriously as a health issue. We know we should get exercise, eat properly, etc., but we don’t think of what my friend Amy calls “sleep hygiene.” I’ve only begun to think of getting enough sleep as a health necessity when I realized how the lack of it impacted my joint pain and also, oddly enough, my efforts to control my weight. And even still, I often do not get enough.

    • Well said. Especially since we’re rewarded in this culture for running ourselves into the ground. Busy = righteous. Taking time to rest fully and renew = lazy or unmotivated. It drives me crazy!

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