All the best things happen when everyone else is asleep. That’s what I used to think, anyway – that by straining myself to stay awake past midnight and sometimes through to dawn, I was accessing a special realm of secret genius. It wasn’t yesterday and it wasn’t tomorrow, it was just mine.
In my four-channel youth, the best films were on TV at antisocial hours. (Well, the most antisocial ones, anyway, and that’s about the same thing.) The best radio shows carried you past 12, and then there were all the other furtive teenage things to do – that, obviously, and reading difficult and dirty novels, and filling endless sheets of A4 with my hormonal inspirations.
I was definitely a night person, which was a good thing, because I’d decided that night people were much more interesting. Night people were the last ones standing at the bar, and then they went home with their friends to drink and talk some more. Night people wrote their essays while the street lights flicked on and then off, and then casually told their classmates they’d been up all night working on it.
Night people were ill and miserable quite a lot, it turned out, and sometimes night people had to get up and do things during the day, which was quite hard when you’d diligently adjusted you body clock to the more interesting hours of darkness. But the important thing was that I didn’t sleep much, which meant I had much more time for being interesting than all those normal people, with their pitiably unblackened eyes and tedious lack of a hardcore caffeine habit. Sleep was rubbish, and holding it back was a triumph.
So what if my triumph quite often involved watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit into the next day, while working on a bit of knitting till my tired hands messed it up and I started hallucinating paedophiles between the dropped stitches? I was still cheating sleep, instead of letting sleep cheat me out of the nocturnal portion of my life.
Even if being a parent forced me to live to a more-or-less conventional timetable, you still couldn’t make me adapt to it. I might have to be up at seven, but no one could stop me from stubbornly sitting up till two, then going to bed with the radio on so the Five Live phone-in could keep me irritably alert. But one day, I went to bed around ten o’clock, read a book and shut my eyes, and found out this: sleep is lovely.
It’s not just some physiological inconvenience, best delayed until further delay is impossible. It’s luxurious ease to feel consciousness fall away, surrender your arms and legs to rest, and slide into the cushiony black, then wake up with the dawn to pitch your secret kingdom in the morning. (I don’t use the time to watch horror movies now, though.) I look forward to tucking myself in. I fell in love with sleep, and sleep comes and goes now with the easy embrace of dear one. And now I’m not perpetually shattered, all the best things can happen when everyone else is awake.