Late Night Vibes: Night Lunch Edition

guest post by Asha Sanaker

Late Night Vibes: Night Lunch Edition
Photo: Jp Valery

This week, Night Water is bringing you a special late night vibe from Asha Sanaker, who writes the newsletter Let Your Life Speak.

I have not historically been a night person, even when pulling all-nighters was the social norm. In college, I declared that the only reason I’d stay up all night was for sex, and I wasn’t having much sex in those days, so I got a remarkable amount of sleep for a college student.

I’m also not a morning person. I don’t think there should be more than one 5 o’clock in a day. People who habitually wake before first light and launch into writing, for instance, inspire in me admiration and horror in equal amounts. How driven they must be! But also, how driven they must be! Like, by anxiety or the Devil or something.

I don’t actually believe in the Devil, unless he looks like Tom Ellis from Lucifer, and then it’s not really belief as much as hopeful fantasy. But seriously, writing before first light? You must be possessed.

Asking someone whether they are a morning or night person seems to be one of those standard ways we categorize people, submitting to our tribal urges to delineate “us” vs. “them”. Maybe it’s that Groucho Marx problem—not wanting to be part of any group that wants me as a member—but when asked to which group I belong, something in me always rebels. My response habitually is, “I’m not a morning person or a night person. I like lunch.”

And sure enough, now that I’ve reached a certain age, I’ve discovered my affection for lunch has extended to the wee hours. I’m now a fan of Night Lunch.

Night Lunch is how I refer to patterns of what is officially called biphasic sleep, wherein people sleep in two shifts. One from mid-evening until anywhere from 1-3 AM and another that begins 2-3 hours later. Studies suggest that this sleep pattern was common in Medieval times, especially among peasants, who slept in communal beds and were subject to bug infestations of various kinds (fleas, lice, bedbugs) as well as late-night violence. Medieval murderers preferred the wee hours to perform their nefarious deeds.

I guess killing people at a civilized hour just doesn’t feel… evil enough?

I can attest that when my children were babies and prone to nighttime waking I sympathized with the desire to commit nefarious acts in the deep darkness. I was not a good nighttime parent. I hated co-sleeping. After long days of caring for everyone and having people touching me nearly constantly with their sticky, slimy, needy fingers I just wanted everyone to leave me alone and let me sleep, goddammit.

After my marriage fell apart spectacularly I was thrust back into nighttime waking, though not because other people were waking me up. Anxiety was my constant alarm. After struggling to go to sleep in the first place, I would then awake anywhere from 2-4 hours later, my brain accelerating from zero to sixty in a breath—sick with nausea, head aching, heart rushing and skipping. How was I going to take care of my kids? Was my husband sleeping with his mistress in our bed at that very moment, while I was alone and unsure of what next horrible thing he would do? If I wasn’t who I had been, who was I? Was this my life now—this anxious, exhausted, unknown life?

Between the anxiety-inspired insomnia and spontaneous vomiting on and off all day, I finally conceded the need for medication. My doctor prescribed Klonopin. It quickly quelled the vomiting and then began to help me sleep. Anxious waking was still a nightly occurrence, but the benzos would slow my brain down enough that I wouldn’t be up spinning endlessly. Instead, I’d wake up enough to realize I was awake, feel terribly sad about that and everything else, and then fall back to sleep in fairly short order.

For about a year and a half, the nightly dose helped me keep my life moving forward, but I was also glad to be done with it, in the end. The first night I slept entirely without it my dreams returned in vivid technicolor, like they’d saved up the show for the chance, finally, to remind me what was possible. I didn’t realize they’d been gone, but having them back felt like a gift.

Now, my kids are mostly grown, my marriage ended a decade ago, and I am back to nighttime wakefulness. But this time, like my dreams, it feels like something I didn’t realize I was missing.

Lit up lamp next to an empty bed.
Photo: Jp Valery

Whether or not the kids are with me, I climb into bed anywhere from 9 PM to 11 PM. If it’s early, I pull up the latest book I’m reading on my phone and scroll hungrily through the pages until my eyes get heavy. Then what the French call the premier somme begins. It lasts anywhere from 3-5 hours, at which point I wake up because I have to pee or noise erupts from the street outside or my hip aches.

I’m no longer anxious or feel put upon by this nighttime waking. It’s Night Lunch! I get up to pee, pet the cat who runs in to rub against my calves as I sit there with my eyes closed, and then creep back to bed. I resettle my covers, languidly stretch out my sore spots, pull up my book on my phone, or grab my vibrator to masturbate. Whatever suits me. No one else is awake. No one needs anything from me. I am alone in my bed—warm, comfortable, utterly free.

I heard author Elizabeth Gilbert once say that due to her chronic anxiety she had to establish a rule of “no horizontal thinking.” If she woke up and her brain started spinning, she had to get up and reset. She is also a morning person, so she doesn’t find being vertical in the dark before sunrise offensive like me. I want that second sleep. It’s when my dreams are most vivid. It allows me to wake up for good when it’s light out, quelling any anxiety that my life is spiraling out of control. So, other than getting up to pee, I stay down but occupied with things that remind me how delicious it is to have a body, to have a brain that imagines.

We forget in this culture that sleep is necessary work. Our bodies and brains reset and recuperate, our immune systems are replenished. But sometimes all that work doesn’t happen in one go. We work a first shift, take a break in the deep darkness, and then return to finish our sleep day. Sometimes it’s a long day. I’m in bed for 10 or 11 hours altogether. But I’ve had a long, leisurely Night Lunch to break it up so I don’t mind at all.