Second sleep

I never used to have any trouble sleeping.

For most of my life, I was one of those lucky people who drifted off to sleep, slept through the night, and woke up early, refreshed and ready for a new day.

That’s still true half the time. But only half the time. If I sleep well one night, the following night I either lie awake, unable to get to sleep. Or, like tonight, I sleep for a little while, then wake up a couple of hours later, knowing there’s no point in pretending. I’m going to be up for awhile.

There’s nothing wrong. It’s just become normal for me.

I’ve been fascinated with studies indicating that historically, people used to sleep in two shifts. There are references to rural people, before electricity made productivity after dark possible, going to bed early, then waking, perhaps going visiting to neighbors, then returning home to sleep again until sunrise.  They called it first and second sleep.


There are even scientific articles suggesting that two sleep periods per night are actually more natural and, perhaps, better.  I can’t say it’s better, in my experience. But it’s not horrible.

On the nights I find myself awake between around midnight and two o’clock, I do what modern people do. I open up my laptop, I read emails.

I have learned it is unwise to read the news or go on social media. That’s going to keep me up a lot longer. Sometimes, like tonight, I write.

I used to be upset that I was awake, that I couldn’t relax and drift off again. I’ve grown accustomed to it now. It’s just what happens.

Sometimes, when I go downstairs, it’s cold. But tonight there’s a warm breeze blowing in the window. Violet the dog has followed me, and she lies at my feet in the dim light cast by an old lamp and the computer screen. She is good company as I wait for second sleep.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.

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