Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Up at night

Thinking of myself as someone who might suffer from insomnia is a reversal of self-perception for me. For my whole adult life, I’ve slept easily, deeply and long. Getting up during the night with a hungry infant never particularly bothered me, since I knew I’d fall back asleep as soon as the baby settled down.

So why did that change in the past month? At least four times in the past four weeks, I’ve been up for ninety minutes or more during the pre-dawn hours: anxious, alert, and unable to fall back asleep, which is so unlike me.

Does it have to do with the weather? The moonlight that comes in through the skylights in our new bedroom? One friend suggested it was hormonal, but I have no supporting reasons to think that’s the case. I suppose it’s not really quite the mystery I’m making it sound. Each time, something specific and external – noises from either dog or child – has initially woken me, and then the internal part takes over and keeps me from falling back to sleep, which used to come so easily to me.

But now my mind races until my pulse does too. One night I attributed it to a difficult conversation about household issues that took place earlier in the day; another night to an email from the parent of one of Holly’s friends raising questions about certain behaviors; and yet another night – Sunday night – astonishment over international events were what churned in my mind when I woke hours after first going to ed.

But I have to admit, I kind of like it, just a little bit. I’m so alone at that time of night. No one needs me for anything, not the slightest little thing, not a glass of orange juice or homework help or counsel regarding weekend plans. I read a while ago, before insomnia was my own issue, that the worst thing to do when you’re having trouble sleeping is lie in bed thinking about how awake you are, so instead I take my laptop to another room and write in my journal. Since that’s how I normally spend the first thirty minutes of my waking hours, I can justify that doing so in the pre-dawn part of the day allows me to sleep a little later.

When I’m done journaling, I read for a little bit. Sheepish as I sometimes feel about all my electronic dependencies, they certainly make it easier to keep busy in the middle of the night: with my laptop and my Kindle, I can stay busy for hours.

But I don’t, because eventually I always get tired again, and then I go back to sleep and fall into the deep, uninterrupted sleep I’ve always come to expect.

It’s possible the novelty will wear off, and being up during the night will stop feeling so efficient, so private, and like such a fine use of time. It could get worse, too: post-midnight creativity sessions more than about once a week would exhaust me.

I know insomnia isn’t something you’re supposed to celebrate, but at the moment, in its own subversive way, it’s working for me. So for the time being, I’ll not only keep my 3 a.m. date with insomnia but even celebrate it, for its wonderful solitude and long uninterrupted bouts of creativity. If it gets worse, I’ll not doubt complain plenty. But for now, I feel like I’ve been let in on a secret: the secret of all you can do if you’re the only one awake during the night (and if you have a full complement of well-charged electronics). Maybe soon I’ll have less to worry about when I wake at night. For now, though I could happily do without the worry, I’m thankful for those quiet post-midnight interludes. So I’ll welcome my occasional rendez-vous with the three o’clock hour. It’s a quiet and useful time, even though I wouldn’t want to get together with it every night.

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