Monday, September 24, 2012

In the middle of the night.

This morning, I got up at 4:20 a.m. to take my daughter, who was home for a quick trip to be a part of a wedding, to the airport.

The horror!
I know.

What made it worse was a new phenomenon in my sleep world: the "I can't fall asleep because I have to get up so early" dance. It is an absurdity. I know that if I don't sleep, I will be wrecked from lack of sleep. I know it. And that makes it, somehow, harder to fall asleep. Also: what if I sleep through my alarm? And what if I have failed to set my alarm? My daughter will miss her flight! And there will be a disaster! Many disasters! Who can sleep with so many disasters, and all so imminent?

Perhaps yesterday, some of you read this in the Review section of the Times. "Rethinking Sleep."  (Oh, for sure. I'm rethinking it right now.)

One of the most interesting things in the article was the fact that a history professor began to research "the history of the night" (poem idea--get on that!), and found many references in historic and literary texts to what was called "the first sleep" and the "second sleep"--with a period of wakefulness in between the two sleeps which occurred around midnight and lasted for a couple of hours. Apparently this period was regarded as the best time for contemplation and deep thought, as well as for sex.
Most of us, however, do not treat middle-of-the-night awakenings as a sign of a normal, functioning brain. 

Doctors who peddle sleep aid products and call for more sleep may unintentionally reinforce the idea that there is something wrong or off-kilter about interrupted sleep cycles. Sleep anxiety is a common result: we know we should be getting a good night’s rest but imagine we are doing something wrong if we awaken in the middle of the night. Related worries turn many of us into insomniacs and incite many to reach for sleeping pills or sleep aids, which reinforces a cycle that the Harvard psychologist Daniel M. Wegner has called “the ironic processes of mental control.”
Also, a psychiatrist at NIMH did a sleep study in which he deprived his subjects of artificial light at night. At first they slept soundly, but not too long into the study, the subjects began to wake up for a little while--a couple of hours--then go back to sleep:
It seemed that, given a chance to be free of modern life, the body would naturally settle into a split sleep schedule. Subjects grew to like experiencing nighttime in a new way. Once they broke their conception of what form sleep should come in, they looked forward to the time in the middle of the night as a chance for deep thinking of all kinds, whether in the form of self-reflection, getting a jump on the next day or amorous activity.
I will pause, so that you may reflect.

In any case, I am now off to bed. My eyes are hot and I feel dangerously close to losing it, over nothing at all, or not much. If my sleep is seamless, bully! And if it is segmented, I will be thinking deep thoughts. I'm sure you'll be able to feel me thinking them, way over across town, where you're awake, thinking some deep thoughts of your own.


  1. I'm glad (sort of) to know that my insomnia means I'm thinking deep thoughts instead of just staring at the ceiling and listening to the hubby snore!

    I hope you caught those zzzz's, HT.

  2. I hope your split sleep is restful and rewarding! Deep thoughts indeed!

  3. I am one acquainted with that dance with imminent disasters. Try marinating your turkey dinner in Nyquil? I'm not sure I'm on board with the idea of squeezing in something productive at night. I'm still trying to warm to the idea of daytime productivity.

  4. Yes, I wish you the soundest, happiest sleep; also: a poem on the history of the night: bring it!



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