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Why Do We Stay Up Late Reading?

To sleep or read, that is the question.

To sleep or read, that is the question.

The other night, I was reading Andy Weir’s The Martian, and once I hit midnight, I deliberately quit checking my watch because I didn’t want to stop reading. When I finally stumbled to bed around 2 a.m., with half the book still to go, I was exhausted but gleeful. Stealing time from my sleep is frankly irresponsible, but that doesn’t stop me. In a way, it adds to my pleasure because it’s a minor rebellion.  

Loving a book enough to stay up late is a way of reclaiming myself, especially when I’m feeling like my life is slightly out of control anyway. Like everybody else, I work hard during the day. I have enough discipline to keep myself revising for hours, day after day, but as a deadline nears, and my balance shifts heavily toward work, this kid part of me revolts. Let’s play. Let’s fight back even if that involves sabotaging our own boat.

I know I’m not alone in this. We joined this club long ago, when we took our flashlights to bed with us. We’re the kids in the back of the car at night, holding our books open until we pass under a streetlight so the page is lit enough for us to read another sentence. We’re the ones with novels in our lunch boxes, with crumbs in our margins. We’re the ones who nurse babies while reading, who stir noodles while reading, who take baths while reading.  We’re the ones who miss our metro stops.

Might as well accept the truth. For me, grogginess the next morning is a small price to pay for my latest lapse. It’s easier to recommit myself to my work again now that I’ve pigged out on reading. I’ve had a vacation to another world. I’ve indulged an addictive itch. The real test will come again tonight, when I still have half the book to go.

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