Have you ever lain awake for hours, unable to sleep, knowing you had to get up early?
I’ve had many nights like this: Each hour on the clock reigniting my brain. Every thought in my head stirring me further awake. The impending alarm looming in the dark. It can be a torturous experience.
Quite recently, I had one such long night.
The Darkest Hours
Last Thursday, December 21st, was the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. In my hemisphere, it marks autumn’s end and winter’s beginning.
Before bed, I stood in the doorway between hallway and bedroom, planning a new start for myself.
In the morning, the first day of winter, I’d get up earlier than usual and get right to my new regimen–reading, meditating and writing. Instead of letting the sun wake me up, I’d become an early morning person this year, starting tomorrow when it was still quite dark.
“Don’t wait for the New Year,” I encouraged myself, “make a resolution for the new season instead!”
Alarm set for 6:00 AM and covers tucked, I closed my eyes. Despite the dark and cold, I’d be up for the challenge. I expected that my 9:30 PM lights-out would usher me slowly to sleep by 10:00.
But 11 o’clock came and went. My body remained tense, refused to unclench. My neck stayed stiff like a fallen pine on a forest floor. Sure that pillow was soft and supportive, the mattress firm yet giving. But no, the tree of me refused to acknowledge the fall. A season of life — if even just a day — was over, and now was the time to let go. But my body was not cooperating.
And it wasn’t just my body. There was also my mind. I watched it squirrel around unearthing sweet memories of my daughter’s and granddaughter’s visit that day.
“Alright,” I observed, “my thoughts need a chance to scamper a bit.” So I let them rummage through some other joys of the past.
But then came their forays into the future, trying to solve imagined problems:
My throat was suddenly scratchy: “Oh no, am I getting a cold? I’ll take extra vitamin D in the morning, a little bit of zinc…” Then a news story I had read resurfaced: “Will the political order really collapse? How can I make a difference? Dear God, please keep the peace!”
Enough! I heard myself think. Time for a rest, for sleep. No need to entertain every last little thing that pops into your head….
I checked the clock. Midnight. Crap.
Have I slept? I can’t tell if that noise from the floor was a creak, creature, or dream. Darn it, I set the alarm allowing for eight hours of sleep.
My necessary eight had whittled to six. My heart pounded out the deficit, counting down to a bleary winter morning.
I got up and turned off the alarm. That helped settle the part of me–who is she?– that freaks out when a deadline looms at the end of rest.
She could be the me who, through years of touring, learned life on the road made sleep unpredictable. Or me as a kid whose evenings were disrupted by her dad’s drunken rampages. Maybe that part of me won’t relinquish the luxury of sleeping in.
Alarm off, I still saw 12:46 AM on the clock. But that was the last memory of my waking nightmare. I awoke at 6:40, December 22nd, quickly dressed and rushed downstairs to my husband’s coffee brew. What a long night. Welcome, winter.
Dawns on Me
Did I fail that night in my winter’s resolutions? Lose momentum for real change? No, I don’t think so.
Yes, I’ve met some mornings earlier since then. And though the days are still short, they lengthen from here to June’s summer equinox. I have plenty of time to practice early-rising for getting a jump on the day.
This last week of 2023, I have looked back at the 12-month sweep to remind me that the years are built on seasons, filled with months of change, weeks of work and days of rest. Some nights are long and many hours have come and gone. But I’ve learned that the moment for change is always here, always now, always new.