I can’t get no sleep

Sleeping has never been my superpower. Unlike the Faithless song, though, I don’t generally spend my insomniac hours tearing off tights with my teeth – I just spend them worrying.

Part of me is unsure about writing this article, after all, it is (checks clock) 05:15.

And I haven’t slept.

And I’ve had a few drinks in the hope that alcohol might beat my brain into submission. It hasn’t. But I stopped, so I guess that’s a win? Or maybe not. Anyway it’s 05:35 now and I find myself with a glass of alka-seltzer.

What’s tomorrow? Who knows.

golf.jpgIt’s now 06:15 and I’ve had an online chat with a friend on the other side of the planet. I know I’m loved – which is great. I was pretty sure I was loved already, but it’s particularly good to know that someone (who’s not my husband) also loves me. To be honest, as the long dark nights of the soul go, this one hasn’t been that shit. It’s indisputably morning, and I have indisputably not slept at all, but the internet and my international friends mean it’s not been entirely lonely. The dawn chorus was delightful – I even sat in the garden with a blanket so I could get the full chirping tweeting experience.

There’s a sense in which I’m doubly – maybe trebly – lucky. As a part-time academic out of term time I have nothing on tomorrow (today) that’s going to stretch me. I’ve got a research group talk, probably by a PhD student, and they’ll be most pleased if there aren’t any difficult questions. And there’s another committee meeting which will pass more quickly if I skip it, or sit in the corner pretending to be awake; If I were fully present, it’d probably take at least 5 minutes longer. So win-win.

I can switch my days, and work on one of my days off, which means that things get done in the end, assuming this is a one-off episode, and assuming that I get over my insomniac jetlag quickly. What gets lost, then? What gets lost is progress. What gets lost is me doing the things I want to do – finishing the electronics on the new system, seeing the students who aren’t ready yet but could do with an hour of chat, starting the small pump-priming grant which will get things started off… what gets lost for me failing to sleep is me failing to progress my own projects. More than this, what gets lost is me. Because if I go to work in this sleep-deprived state then I’m not me. If I have the day off, then it’s going to be a day off in bed, and not a day off having fun, doing exercise, reading, being creative, catching up with housework, or any of the other things that it’s nice to do in a day off.

And therein lies the problem.

I could go in today. I have been in – in the past – in similarly sleep-deprived states.

But today, at 07:07, I think I won’t. It can be a non-day. The work can happen tomorrow, and I’ll try to find time for the other stuff – the non-work stuff, the life stuff – some other day.

photo of birds flying above body of water during golden hour
Photo by Hakan Tahmaz on


Reviewing this article a week later – no I didn’t publish it immediately – I am struck again by the irony of worry about work stopping me from sleeping, and therefore stopping me from getting to work. It’s hard, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to remember what the core of my 5am worries were. Some are easy to recall, as they’re my hardy perennials: unfinished projects, journal papers that have been bouncing around the reject-resubmit cycle (some for years), the lack of funding, the effect of being part time on my colleagues, the long term antidepressant use which makes me slower and more easily distracted than I’d like to be.

The rest of the worries are harder to recall, now it’s day and I’ve caught up on the kip. They were absolutely compelling at 5am. Next time, I need to try and remember that they’ll evaporate once I’ve slept.

One comment

  1. Try not to worry about the things not done, H. They will always be there, no matter how productive you are and no matter how well you feel. No-one is on the operating table, so you just need to do the best you can.

    Fingers crossed that you’ll have more time for the things you care about over summer.


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