Halfway to the North Pole

Outside the window, night is full-black, muffling sound. On this side, my vague reflection twitches. Not because I’m stressed or upset–well, maybe at not sleeping rather than staring at my own ghostly reflection, unsure of what to do with myself. So I open the laptop and play with words.

Sleep has been an erratic quality these past few weeks. Most of the time, I’m just up, sipping chamomile tea, and reading.

Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech, studied sleep patterns.

His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.

References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.

This seems to have been most common in the long nights of winter before advent of the electric lights which prolonged our days.

I’ve been napping a lot this winter. In fact, for a while in mid to late December, I had more trouble being awake than sleeping. Long afternoon naps were my normal pattern. Maybe I’ve used up my quota of sleep for now.

Or maybe, living halfway between the equator and the North Pole as I do, it’s a normal state for these long winter nights.

I must admit, it’s a seductive time. There are no sounds. None. Not even the far off hum of traffic on the freeway some miles off. I can always hear it in the morning, but not now. No wind rattles the few shrunken oak leaves which I know still cling, out of stubbornness I expect, to winter branches.

Only the soft velvet of night.

From Wikipedia: delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, is a chronic dysregulation of a person’s circadian rhythm (biological clock), compared to the general population and relative to societal norms.

And there we are, at societal norms, few of which I’m very normal at.

I often think of my northern European ancestors when I’m awake like this, and see someone in a chair with a lap robe, next to a fire, tilting a book just so in order to see the words in reflected firelight. And what would they have thought, I wonder, if they could have seen into the future some two hundred years to a woman sitting in the glow of a computer screen.

Frank Kafka wrote at night. Hmmmm. That brings up images of cockroaches on their backs, cockroaches being nocturnal animals themselves.

Wikipedia provides a long list of nocturnal animals, in case you’re interested. The list begins with aardvark. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an aardvark although nighttime coyotes are common where I’m from. Well, not so much in the city, but they are on the farm.

Here’s a line from one of my night poems set on the farm: coyotes run through the draw/warble sweet and high/as if they were angels, singing in tongues.

Maybe that’s the reason to be awake in the deep of night, halfway to the North Pole…magic happens.

21 thoughts on “Halfway to the North Pole

  1. Interesting how our sleep patterns are affected by others: your spouse, your dentist, your fellow poker players, the proprietor of your local coffee shop (whose hours are dictated by their customers…all strangers to you).Even your baseball team. Ideally, you would sleep when you’re tired, and do something else when you’re not. I prefer this last schedule, although I worry late at night when others’ schedules don’t cooperate. Fortunately, I can sleep in a chair in front of my compuuuuuuu……

    1. GREAT reply, Zane. I especially liked the compuuuuuu…
      Sadly, I can never sleep in front of this ruler of my life! I’ll start practicing, however, as it’s where I seem to be so much of the time….

  2. Maybe your cat is reacting to the rather unsettled times we’re living in. And cats tend to be night wanderers. Best wishes at convincing a cat of anything, especially that they should behave as you wish them to! LOL.
    There’s only limited times we can have the windows open, usually late spring and early fall. Between pollen allergies and too hot too cold…well, there it is. Night riders and night writers…yes. They do seem a pair.

  3. I admit to sleeping through the night with one brief bathroom break. As my life has grown more peaceful since moving near my family I sleep one hour less. This is my new normal. Not sure what this signifies. Your night time hours of wakefulness are appealing. Your poem is lovely.

    1. Thank you Viv. I’m not sure what “normal” is anymore. Or even the new normal! Actually, I rather like those night time hours when I’m awake although last night I slept the whole night through. There seems to be very little pattern to my days or nights yet….

  4. So interesting! Although I sleep well, average night 11pm-7am, I have times when i wake up and can’t go back to sleep. I will read, too, but it would be rare to stay awake more than 30 minutes. I’m not a napper either, so whatever I’m doing works for now.

    1. Good for you Terri. Although I must admit, I do like those empty middle-of-the-night hours when nothing else needs doing. And on the other hand, I’m an unapologetic napper…have been for years. 🙂

  5. I have read about this “second sleep” phenomenon recently and it is quite interesting. Your timing is also interesting on this post, Janet. I see my Sleep Doctor tomorrow for my yearly checkup. 15 years of rotating shifts every week turned my days and nights into episodes of the Twilight Zone, 24/7/365. I have found out that my perception of time has been greatly distorted and diminished. Oh, well…

    1. That’s really interesting to think about, Allan. Rotating shifts must be — well, I can’t even imagine what that must be like. Crazy-making I’d think. i.e. The Twilight Zone. If your perception of time is the only thing distorted from that kind of a schedule, I’d say you’re doing well…and thankfully, retired.

      1. Tired and Re-tired, Janet. If you would like a laff or two, look for “4 a.m.” in the TED Talks. The poet, Rivas, has an entertaining performance about what goes on in the wee hours of the night.

  6. I was fascinated when I learned about the historical support for two sleep periods — I read about it a few years ago. This knowledge enabled me to quit worrying when I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep. Now I take out a book without guilt and read (e-reader, but with a blue light filter on it). Of course, it helps when I don’t have anything scheduled in the morning and can sleep in if I need to. And I do feel more rested if I get all my sleep in one 7-8 hour block.
    I have thought about getting up to write, as you do. But it’s so cold in the house in winter! And no blue light filter on the laptop.
    Sweet dreams and poetry,

    1. Thank you, Theresa. Cliff can be a light sleeper so even a blue light e-book would arouse him. And truth is, I like those night hours when nothing needs doing. However, it’s always a gift when I get to sleep all night. However, and this is really strange, I’m more inclined to naps when I sleep all night than I am when I’m up in the night.
      Years ago in the classroom we were talking about favorite times to write and a student, when I confessed to liking being up in the night, said, “Oh. You’re a night-rider.” I laughed out loud. I didn’t know what a night rider was, but I liked the sound.

  7. Sleep patterns are interesting and variable. Age changes sleep patterns I think, in my experience. I sometimes sleep through the night but I often sleep in two “shifts. Awake by 2am or 3am and then go back to sleep around 7am. It is not the most restful sleep. I think naps are important which help make up for the sleep deficit.

    I know what you mean when describing the stillness of night. No sounds at all- I have yet to understand why.

    1. Nobody needs nothin’ in the middle of the night – maybe that’s why it’s so quiet.
      The patterns are interesting though. Oddly enough, I don’t need a nap when I’m up in the night as I sleep later in the morning, but on nights when I sleep through, I always need a nap. Yup. That doesn’t seem to make much sense either!

      1. Your sleep pattern is similar to mine. If I sleep through the night then a nap is generally needed. But- yes naps help make up the sleep deficit. I feel ill if I must push myself past nap time.

  8. 😵 am i awake or asleep? i wander and wonder…

    i an not completely certain. just as well because that so depends on the definitions of others any way so…….. for Now…….. i’ll be content to just hang out with my own little i am and witness it change

    since change is in the order of the day.🎶

    1. Lovely! I like that a lot. And change does seem to be the order of the day. A few weeks ago, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “You’re molting,” as in when crabs leave their shell and grow another – or birds molt and grow new feathers. And whether awake or asleep, the changes, they do keep happening.
      Thanks so much for responding. It will be nice getting to know you.

  9. My two biggest sleep problems are reading a book that’s too good and keeps me awake (reading in bed, which I do every night) and waking up during the night and my brain getting going and not shut-off-able. I’ve been much better about the latter, the former not as much. I’ve read that you should stay away from electronics for an hour or so before you want to sleep. I’ve been doing that and it seems to work. It’s also much easier to disconnect (in all ways) and relax if not on laptop or phone. I found a lovely sound track of running water and forest sounds and play that when I get into bed. I go to bed relatively early, as I tend to wake up early, especially once it’s light at 5 am. 🙂

    My parents live in Arizona and I’ve heard coyotes there. Quite something!


    1. A completely unexpected and surprising Christmas present from my husband was an Ecco thing. Alexia, she’s called. And I can lie down on the day bed, say, “Alexa, play meditation music,” and she does. Amazing. I’m pretty much a live the day in silence sort of person when I’m in writing mode, but now, I have Alexia. Who, thankfully, won’t talk to me unless I ask her something.
      In truth, I don’t know if I’ve ever had what you might call regular sleep patterns.

      1. They advertise those on TV, but my husband was telling me about problems people have had with children or unauthorized people ordering things or generally mis-using them. That sounds like a winner for you, though.

  10. I’ve always been one to sleep through the night until recently, when my cat, for reasons known only to her (anxiety? boredom? discomfort from her arthritis?) began howing at about 3 a.m. I can go back to sleep easily, but once she’s up and about, she’s determined that I should be, too. It’s starting to wear on me. Perhaps I could convince her that some ghostly coyote prowls living rooms during the night, and she should be very, very quiet?

    I do love the night. Winter is one thing, but in the transitional seasons, when the windows can be open, the sounds of the night birds, and fish jumping, are delightful. They don’t break the silence, they complement it, like far-away train whistles. Night riders, and night writers: quite a pair, don’t you think?

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