Pam’s Pictorama Post: Although I am (and always have been) very fond of sleep, when I was a child I assumed that many of the truly interesting things in the world were going on in the middle of the night. Somehow I thought (knew?) that grownups were prowling the nights while I slept. They were watching gently muted television shows which were blue-lighting bedrooms or out at fantasy dinner clubs based on images I formed from early films. I imagined them sitting our suburban backyards, walking the streets and on moonlit ocean beaches. I imagined that somehow their night selves were more interesting and some day I would join them.
When I was very little and couldn’t sleep I would sometimes roll into an empty built-in bookshelf next to my bed and curl up there. The enclosure somehow being more comforting if less comfortable and it freaked my parents out in a mild way. My mother still talks about it and I have a visceral memory of it. (Of course I have no empty shelves in my adult life.)
My older sister, Loren, slept little and would go to bed late and get up early, although once asleep she slept soundly as far as I remember. When we were tiny she would usually be up for a late whisper or even prowl around the house together while our parents thought we were asleep. (During our adolescence we would fall asleep to her violin practice nightly which typically went on until about midnight.)
I always liked a cat on my bed for company if wakeful and from the time I was a small child I would lure them up at night. My first cat here in New York, a tuxie named Otto, slept wrapped around my head on my pillow most nights. She was the very best about sleeping with me and always kept me company.
Blackie heeds my call many nights (Cookie almost never and if she does she prefers Kim) and often sleeps at my feet where I find him snoring softly (he does snore) when I wake between the hours of 2:30 and 3:30 many nights. I like to find him there and give him a few pets and feel a gentle purr in response, but unlike young me I rarely wake him to keep me company. I usually slip out of bed leaving him and Kim sound asleep.
I am likely to have fallen gratefully into a deep sleep earlier in the night and wake to find my mind going from a manically busy dream right into a full tilt wakefulness. Sometimes I can lead myself back to sleep, but other nights I cannot and I lay in bed with a parade of thorny worries making maneuvers and marching through my brain until I finally give in and wander to the couch and take another hit of melatonin.
If I am reading a book I will read a bit (my posts about reading Judy Bolton novels can be found here and the Camp Fire Girls helped many a night and the first of those posts can be found here), but sometimes I scroll through my Instagram feed (I have conferred with @missmollystlantiques in the wee hours and bought photos from her) and see new posts from folks in other parts of the country and other parts of the world where their day has started.
Of course, sometimes I give into work and during the height of the pandemic unknotting worries about work snarling my brain would wake me so entirely that clearly the only resolution was to get up and do something about it. My colleagues grew used to responses to their inquiries time stamped for these late night hours. If I responded to a text from with my boss it could go on for a long time though as he is a notorious nightbird insomniac as well. (Jazz musician so of course!)
There are nights (many in fact) where I do the calculus of income to date at work and fret about how the gap will get filled before the end of the fiscal year, what needs doing to achieve it; budget is often on my mind one way or another. Other nights I fret over staffing or hiring issues. Recently I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about where a new hire would sit and wondered in the morning why it had so obsessed my mind the night before, the lens of sleeplessness magnifying things in an odd way. In the before times (pre-Covid) it might have been responses to a dinner that were especially slow in coming or thinking about an upcoming trip for work. Sometimes I get good ideas during these hours, other times not.
These days I am likely to be thinking (worrying) about my mom and may find a late night response to an earlier evening email from her. I like to see those, but am careful not to answer her because she will worry about my sleeplessness. She always writes that she hopes I am not seeing the email until morning. When I am in New Jersey with her I turn the television on to put me back to sleep which it often does. Here in New York our apartment is too small and I worry that even turning on a lamp will wake Kim and kitties.
I am aware that experts say that looking at a computer screen will wake you further. I do not find this and instead often take comfort in my electronic book or a gentle interaction with the evidently not quite sleeping world and find a short interlude distracting enough to soothe me and send me back to sleep successfully.
I do know from my own late nights and early mornings that there are legions of colleagues and friends roaming these same night hours. I see time stamps on other emails that confirm this. I frequently joke that we all know we could schedule a meeting for 3:30 AM. My friend and colleague on the West coast is usually having her sleepless interlude when I am first up and have started my day here in New York. We have email exchanges until she (sometimes) goes back to sleep for a bit once my work day has truly begun.
Running has helped me sleep better and in turn my early morning run is one of the reasons I urge myself to get back to sleep. As I generally get up around 6:00 (feeding time for the kits) it makes the timing of taking an actual sleeping pill, even a half, difficult to time. I tend to give into it a few times a month but generally prefer gummies that contain both melatonin and something called Rescue Remedy.
On a particularly bad night nothing will work, even after attempting to bludgeon the sleeplessness out of me with all of the concoctions above. On those nights there is no sense of camaraderie among my sleepless counterparts, just me and my fretting.
The author Steven Millhauser (a favorite of mine and gently disliked by Kim) writes about the night and describes it in a way that captures the way I would like to feel about it. If unfettered by place and responsibilities, I could freely roam the night with long neighborhood strolls and fill that time with creative production rather than nattering worries and concerns about early morning meetings and a long exhausting day ahead I might learn to love those odd hours. He devoted a great novella to a single night in a Connecticut neighborhood, Enchanted Night, although it is a short story called The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne that made me realize he was a kindred spirit on the subject.
Thursday night I attended a concert featuring Cécile McLorin Salvant and she talked about being inspired to write a particular song after reading a Colette quote about insomnia, on her phone in the middle of the night; leaving me to wonder if she was googling insomnia at the time, or Colette perhaps? (She also said that it was a New Year’s resolution to keep her phone out of her bedroom which failed almost immediately.) In its early stages, insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer darkly take refuge. For me the key word is almost.
And of course I know that some of you, my dear readers, are also reading this very post in the middle of the night and I hope it sends you back to the Land of Nod and so, sweet dreams.