Reclaim the Night

At zero hour

sputniks gyrate
inner space,
strange beep
scares monsters in corners…
dance on, beep.
Planning colonic torture, other shapes
shift arm, hand as I write, sliding
across, scratching like mice in the attic.
The cupcake gist they are to whisk.
Teeth gleam in sacrifice at hollow,
crack fear from dawn eye sockets.
The skull lets corners
gather, the chances people beep.
My breath is percept, a.m. encircled.
Pandora is poised, holding
one look- away thing.
TV is a sin into other, the cast
skin of silver aerials. The centre
world is empty now, a snake
gleam and glint.
The empty skull beeps a double six.
Soon time to go, collect glass like left-overs.
Who is missing?
Wires coil, my passport binding.
The last three years of the future spirals.
Our ship rotates
space to un-destination,
I hope its Hawaii.


I wrote this poem in the middle of the night.  It is a time when the material world slips out of view, a peaceful time when I’m more creative.   There seems to be a special zone between waking and sleeping (which can sometimes be accessed through drugs or alcohol) when the controlling part of our conscious mind releases it’s stranglehold.  We become less inhibited, less distracted by mundane chores.  We stop censoring our words and allow images from the unconscious mind to surface. These can form the source material for poems, stories and visual art.

Last night the British population set their clocks back by one hour.  It was the end of British Summer Time and in theory we were blessed with an extra hour in bed. Except for chronic insomniacs like myself who added that hour on to watching a Twin Peaks episode online.  Since childhood I’ve had problems with sleep walking, nightmares, lucid dreaming and night terror.  Night terror is a sleep disorder which causes intense feelings of fear during periods of shallow sleep.


According to sleep experts the ideal amount of sleep for our physical and mental health is about eight hours, uninterrupted in one block.  I have not been able to sleep in this way for as long as I can remember.  I would fall asleep easily but then wake up with a jolt after three or four hours, feeling too restless and uncomfortable to stay in bed.  For many years I resorted to sleeping pills to try and sleep for longer.  After a while they made less difference to the time I spent asleep but I became seriously addicted to Zopiclone.  This drug appears at first to be a miracle cure for insomnia but it also seriously fucks up your brain; hallucinations, memory loss, binge eating, psychotic episodes.  Ironically I managed to kick my Zopiclone habit due to the increasing pain levels caused by the loss of my prescription pain-killer, Co-Proxamol (please see my post below entitled ‘Pills, Thrills and Cake’ for details).  My body now hurts so much in the night that taking Zopiclone is a waste of time.

I now have a new solution to insomnia: I stopped worrying about it.  I stopped trying to sleep like a so-called ‘normal’ person.  I accepted that I can only sleep in short blocks with an interval of two or three hours in between when I must move around.  ‘Segmented sleep’ is the answer for me.

Sleeping for eight hours at a time is a modern idea.  Historical research shows that before the industrial revolution and the invention of electric lighting, ‘bimodal’ or ‘biphasic’ sleep was the norm.  The sleep pattern was split into two. The first sleep began around 7pm or dusk followed by a waking period in the middle of the night (usually around 1am). A second sleep followed through to morning. The French called the waking interval ‘dorveille’ or ‘wakesleep’.  Before industrialization people used this time creatively to read, write, pray, have sex and even visit neighbours.  Then came industrialization.  Humans became another cog in the machine, required to labour long, fixed hours in factories during the day.  Working life was not as flexible in the new cities so sleep patterns changed to monophasic (in one segment).

In the animal world polyphasic sleep is common.  This is when sleep is broken up into more than two segments.  Hence the term ‘cat-napping’.  The U.S. military advocates short naps of at least 45 minutes to counter fatigue in extreme situations where monophasic sleep is not possible.  Napoleon, Leonardo da Vinci and Nikola Tesla are said to have been polyphasic sleepers.  In many warm countries it’s traditional to have a mid-day siesta, usually after lunch.  There’s nothing more blissful than an afternoon sleep.  This is an example of biphasic sleep and research has shown it can alleviate stress.

In another piece of research in 1992 by Thomas Wehr, eight healthy men were confined to a room for fourteen hours of darkness every day for a month.  After a period of adjustment the men naturally fell into a biphasic sleep pattern:  sleeping for four hours, then awake for two or three, then another four hours sleep.  They slept just like their ancestors used to.

So next time you can’t sleep through the night, get up, make yourself a cup of tea and a sandwich, pick up your pencil and your notebook.  See what happens.

Worry not – you’re much more normal than you think!