I am an unabashed night owl. While you are lying in bed, slumbering soundly or frolicking through dreamland, I am awake. Most nights, I keep the watch, surrendering to sleep as others start to rise.
That’s not really the right way to say that. That makes it sound like I dislike sleep. I don’t. In fact, I quite enjoy it. But I prefer it during the morning hours, a period of time I don’t fully understand the point of otherwise.
I have always been this way. I can think back to being small and hearing my parents go to bed. Not all the time, but not just the once and not just, as seems to be a common occurrence, at Christmas (although my parents will tell you I had more difficulty on that night than others remaining in my bed). Early on, my parents attempted to address my insomnia with the radio: You don’t have to go to sleep, but you do have to stay in bed. We’ll leave the radio on to keep you company. I suspect this advice is in the parent handbook. I’m pretty sure its hoped-for result is a child who drifts off to sleep listening to quiet music. Instead, it just meant I listened to a surprisingly broad array of nighttime programming — baseball, tv shows, pop music, classical music, evangelical talk shows…
As a teenager, I started pulling all-nighters. Sometimes there was an academic purpose — a test to study for or a paper I needed to finish — but just as often it was just because I enjoyed it. The fact that my room was on the back of the house and my light couldn’t be seen from my folks’ room probably had something to do with my ability to pull off as many off as I did.
College was the perfect time for me, with nearly everyone I knew awake until the wee smalls and usually another hallmate or two with whom to companionably share the pre-dawn hours. Nearly all the sunrises I’ve seen have come at the end of my day, rather than at its start.
People regularly give me (and, frankly, every other night owl) the advice to go to bed early. They offer remedies. They proffer tips. They scold. They cajole. They dangle before us all the wonderful things we can do with those accursed mornings if only we’d get up earlier. But what they don’t do is understand: I love the night.
I love its quiet, even when I choose to fill it with tv, music, a podcast, or an audiobook. I love that it gives me space to expand into it. Living in the city is hard. There are always people around, sharing your commute, your workspace, your elevator, your cramped apartment. You can use headphones to reclaim some of that space, but, just as on an airplane, a really annoying nuisance will find its way to worm its way into your consciousness. The night offers me space to think, to hear my own voices, rather than the cacophony of the thousands around me.
I also love going out into night. Some people find the darkness and the lack of crowds off-putting or even frightening. I find it invigorating. I can find myself out in all that space, in the same way that the ocean re-centers me. I even like the people you encounter in the middle of the night. (I’m not stupid: I remain vigilant about my surroundings and those who share them with me, and I exercise more caution than I would during the day or when others are around.) But the people you find in late-night coffeehouses and working the cash registers of the graveyard shift are friendlier, in a quiet sort of way, than they are when the sun is out. Maybe it’s because they, too, feel more like themselves in the night. Maybe we recognize kindred spirits.
Perhaps we all find our inner peace when the outside lights turn off.
(Thanks to Amanda for the prompt.)