I have battled insomnia all my life. The kind where you wake at 3 or 4 a.m. and lie there, thinking you will never get back to sleep and the day ahead will be awful, when you’ll be fighting to stay awake and may not be able to take a nap (especially if you have a job).

And during those wakeful hours all the awful thoughts and memories come to you. You understand why it was thought demons could visit during long nights.

Recently I’ve read about the two sleeps—based in biology and history. So instead of lying there in misery, I’ve been getting up for an hour or more and doing various things, like checking email, researching topics I’ve been meaning to look up, and writing. After that, you go back to bed for your second sleep. It seems to be working.

It’s what I’m doing right now—instead of lying fully awake in bed thinking about writing something about insomnia, I got up to write this.

Here is how I’ve written about sleeplessness in the past:

Can’t blame the lights outside,
can’t blame the traffic;
I’ve slept through all of that before.
Can’t blame the pillow or the bed;
they’ve stayed beneath me thousands of nights.
Can’t blame tomorrow or yesterday
for thoughts that agitate from ear to ear
as the digits of the clock advance.
The birds anticipate the morning.
How loud they sing!
What trade or payment can I make
to anyone, for anything,
exchanged for minutes of sleep
this last half hour of the night?
Why did I wake? Nothing worried me
that night; there were no sounds.
On the floor of the cottage
I found a square of light
as bright as a window of sun,
though this was hours before dawn.
The moon filled the yard
with patches like snow.
Though it was cold and I was
naked, I went outside, to stand
in the pure white light and join
the generations who’ve watched or danced
in these ancient mountains
in the full moon’s light.

2 a.m. . . . Except for occasional trucks,
homeward-bound revelers, and those
who work through the night,
the rest of the world is asleep.
In all the rooms around us,
wrapped warmly in shadows,
they breathe smoothly, they dream.
3 a.m. . . . A distant siren
wails in the distance. We’re a community
everywhere, the Insomniac Nation,
we who lie awake, staring at the ceiling;
trying to find meaning in our thoughts,
we keep our pointless vigil
till the morning.


There’s a time when the night sky changes
from black to blue that’s just as dark
but things in the distance are more distinct

and you see that what you were looking for—
a lover, an answer, a break, or sleep—
is not in this night for you to find.

But no one goes mad in this quarter-hour.
This is the time to rest from your searching,
to buy a cup of coffee and then go home

to lie on your bed and listen
to the people wake who search by day.

Drawing by Joseph Yeomans


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