When Insomnia Strikes

Last night I woke up at 4.17 am. I have no idea why. What I do know is that I lay awake for the next hour and half, while worries, ideas, things left undone, things needing to be done … circled and swooped through my mind with the persistence of Macbeth’s ghosts.

What worries me is that it might happen again tonight and tomorrow night. For this phenomenon of waking-up-at-the-same-time-every-night-for-no-obvious reason is something I’ve experienced before. Someonetimes it’s 10 to 4; sometimes 3.26. Whatever the chosen hour, my eyes will open at precisely the same time for several nights, until as suddenly as it arrived, the bewitched hour will disappear and I will be able to sleep peacefully again.

This was what prompted me to write the following piece in response  to the stimulus Insomnia on my recent writing course:


Your eyes open. The room is thick with darkness. Soft sounds of breathing stir the air beside you. But why have your eyes opened? You didn’t choose it. You didn’t decide you wanted to wake up, that you wanted to be part of the world at this precise moment. And yet, it’s happened.
Your eyes seek out the clock: 3.05. The red digits glare back at you. The same time as last night and the night before – stretching back in time to the first 3.05 to crack open the night, and forward to a 3.05, unimaginable, but recognizable from its distinctive way marker: 3.05. The guardians of the dark check their watches as you pass by: And stands the clock at 3.05? – whispers rustle along your route.
But why 3.05? The hour when the body is at its lowest ebb. Will this moment – this particular display of digits on the clock, these particular hours and minutes suspended on a breath between pulsating day and empty night, this particular agony of time – will this be the moment on some future night when your end will arrive? When the doctor will close your eyes and check his watch – 3.05, he’ll say and the waiting nurses will turn away. At 3.05, it will be too late.
Is this current awakening a precursor of the moment of your death?
The weight beside you shifts and turns. Sheets wrinkle beneath you and echoing creases settle into your skin. You’re going to die with creases etched across your back.
You turn your head to the left and seek out the red digits again: 3.07. You’ve survived two more minutes. Perhaps that was it. The two-minute warning. The real time of death will be 3.07. You’ve only pressed the snooze button on death.

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  1. What a fascinating post – and it describes something all too familiar to me – wonder if the time could be aligned to birth … now there’s something to ponder 🙂

  2. Lindsay says:

    Interesting thought, Polly – and more hopeful than my death idea!

  3. elly says:

    Love it. It’s another angle on the “someone’s just walked over my grave” idea…when you shiver.

    Well told. And I can certainly relate to it. And I expect I’ll be thinking about it tomorrow morning!!. Waking up in the wee small hours is just part of my bio-cycle now. Great ending with the snooze button. BTW -my clock has very large blue-green numbers…not red…which I find actually makes a difference to me…less “alarming” 🙂

  4. Lindsay says:

    Great comment – thanks, Elly.

  5. Jane says:

    Brilliantly observed piece of writing Lindsay, as a fellow insomniac I can identify with the wretched feeling of lying awake, knowing how tomorrow you will suffer. Hadn’t thought about the possibility that it could be a future foretelling ….now that will keep me awake tonight! x

  6. Lindsay says:

    Thanks for that, Jane. But hope I haven’t given you another reason to lie awake at night!

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