Morning in Morningside Heights

By Aliya Schneider

There’s nothing quite like waking up early on campus. The air is crisp, the sky is a palette of pastels, and the breakfast line at Appletree Deli is filled with workers in construction hats, business attire, and public uniforms. Campus only has a handful of awake souls.

But waking up early feels masochistic to me. I slam snooze on my alarm over and over and over again, and each time it goes off I wonder why I just don’t let myself get quality sleep instead. My body sinks into my mattress and makes me feel pathetic for not being able to move it. Eventually, I’ll I finally roll out of bed feeling restles,s and all I want to do is roll back up beneath my covers.

“Why didn’t you invite me?” I asked a friend as she gushed about her 7 a.m. group run through Riverside Park. She rolled her eyes at the possibility that I would even be able to get out of bed before 9 a.m., and I got defensive. My defense later turned into shame as the prospect of joining her for a 7 a.m. run became more and more dreadful as my workload and extracurricular commitments piled up. I felt inadequate because waking up early wasn’t for me.

I have the capability of waking up for a 7 a.m. run, but it just is not my priority. It is my friend’s. It wasn’t even her priority or preference for me to join her — it was simply my own shame in not being as balanced as she seemed to me.

I signed up to write a piece about mornings to see if I could fight my sleep schedule, spend my first week of classes as a morningbird, feeling fresh and productive before my classes even started. But my tendency to take on activities at night made just getting to my 10 a.m. courses difficult. Instead of ditching the piece, I realized that waking up early isn’t intrinsically better, and I want to dispel that notion.

I was great at waking up in high school. I woke up at 4:00 a.m. the morning of my chemistry exams to cram the whole unit in after daydreaming in class, and even woke up for 6:30 a.m. runs in the middle of winter because I overcommitted myself after school and couldn't go to winter track practices. At the time, these days worked for me. But they wouldn’t now. Even then, they didn’t represent a healthy balance for me, but, rather, a desperation to succeed in ways that did not come naturally to me.

It’s easy to see the ability to take an 8:40 as a pure example of success. The sense of accomplishment can be nice. Last spring I took an 8:40, and I felt like a superstar walking from Plimpton with my iced coffee and damp hair. But I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep as I needed and wasn’t attentive in that class. “I’ll go to bed at a reasonable time this semester,” I told my dad, who responded, “C’mon Aliya, you’re in college. You’re not going to go to bed early, and that’s fine.”

There’s nothing like staying up late: the night sky is vast, the hours seem timeless, and the streets are quieter than usual. I breathe in Netflix and books, and cuddle under my throw blankets uninterrupted. Wandering the streets at night, Manhattan is so quiet, raw, and unhindered in its imperfections, like piled trash bags on the streets. There are the really late nights. The nights so late that the chastity gates are re-opening for the day, that you get to be one of the first in Manhattan to say hello to the sun, and then cradled to sleep by chirping birds.

“You should be waking up by 6:30 a.m. at the latest,” my mom said to me during winter break, when I had been waking up closer to 3 p.m. every day, about an hour before the sun went down for the day. She said I wasted the day away, but, to be fair, the same argument could be made that she wasted the nighttime hours as she went to bed early for her early mornings. Sure, I missed the sunlight, but she missed the stars.

There is no use in feeling guilty about staying up late and sleeping late if that is what works best for you, and the same goes for being an early person. It’s fun to mix it up sometimes, like trying to meet a friend for an early breakfast or going for a walk through the park. I have learned that going to bed and waking up in the morning to study is better for me instead of staying up very late, but it is even better when I don’t need to feel the rush to do something last minute regardless. My insecurity over not being able to wake up early easily isn’t just about what time I wake up. It’s about a constant feeling on campus of not being good enough or not living the way someone else does. Find a schedule that works for yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it as long as it works for you and your own priorities.