Night shift

When I finally give in and open my eyes, the red numbers staring at me say 2:34. “Cool,” I think and immediately realize that I am irreversibly awake. 

I close my eyes again anyway, willing sleep to return, vainly hoping that my mental state and my physical state will align. They do not. Behind my closed eyes, I begin to mentally re-arrange our English continuum. I imagine a large chart on a chalkboard: one axis shows grades 9-12; the other our four strands: Oral, Reading & Literature, Writing, and Media. I populate each cell with skills we want our students to learn, arranging and rearranging information in the grid in my brain. I can envision the smooth continuum of oral skills: asking good questions, then speaking in groups, followed by recognizing and using rhetorical speech, ending with speaking persuasively with evidence. Satisfied, I start to create this again for other strands.

I know this chart well; I am familiar with the gaps and jumps, the places where we hiccup. The grid dances, taunting, behind my closed eyes as I try to mentally fill the holes, try to create a flow of uninterrupted growth across all the various facets, as if somehow at… I check again, 2:47… I can find the answer that will mean authenticity and growth for each individual student, some magic formula that each teacher can apply and…

I try not to sigh loudly when I realize that I need to get up. Andre is deep asleep next to me. He had a long day and needs this rest. My nocturnal concerns need not wake him. I grab a blanket, wrap it around me, and head to the living room. There, I find my journal and start to write.

One of my colleagues often consoles us when we report middle-of-the-night restlessness. “Normal,” she reassures. “Used to be that everyone woke up in the middle of the night.” She’s right. Psychology Today says, “The historical evidence indicates that people in the Middle Ages were up for an hour or more in the middle of the night and thought of sleep as occurring in two segments: first sleep and second sleep. In many ways, this makes sense because being awake during the night has certain advantages. At that time, one could stoke the fire, check the defenses, have sex, and tell tall tales.” I’ve reminded myself of this more than once.

That “sex” is the only hyper-linked word in that paragraph makes me laugh – I remember it even without the computer. No link to fire? Defenses? TALL TALES? Because stories tell us who we are, don’t they? Surely that is what links us. My mind calls up people gathered around a fire in their small home, warming themselves as someone tells a story in the middle of the night. I can almost see the shadows dance against the orange light while the children snuggle in, drowsy but awake. No one is worried about their 3am wakefulness; sleep will return soon enough, now is the time for parents to weave tonight’s tale out of yesterday’s happenings. The room warms.

What story would I tell, here, wrapped cozily in the folds of my blanket, were my own family to gather round? What if my children were to wander sleepily out? Would I dream up a story like Matthew and the Midnight Turkeys ? Would we giggle? Maybe I would tell something more fantastical, more magical? Oh, the mid-night stories we could tell.

And now, as I slip into storytelling, my own eyes begin to close. My pen slows. Tonight’s second sleep is calling. The curriculum will wait: stories don’t need a continuum to work their magic.


(For all you non-Canadians out there, Allen Morgan’s Matthew and the Midnight Turkeys  is a riot for small kids (and me). You are also missing out on Phoebe Gilman’s Jillian Jiggs.)



13 thoughts on “Night shift

  1. Works perfectly for me … I was up at 2:00 and back to sleep at 3:30. That is most nights. Just need to accept it and do something that makes me happy. Thanks for the research – I didn’t know about it.


  2. To toss and turn or to get up and do something when the sleep is interrupted in the middle of the night? Productivity is not a bad idea. I enjoyed reading your slice.


  3. I sometimes feel the quietness of the middle of the night is conducive to so many things. There is not much traffic going by, the cats are asleep and quiet, the night sounds are relaxing…the perfect time for gathering thoughts or compiling stories.


  4. Oh my goodness, this is lovely. The writing is so descriptive and creates an atmosphere that puts the reader in the moments along with you. If your story tells who you are, then you are truly as beautiful as I think you are!


  5. I can relate to so much of this post. I’m definitely a wake-in-the-middle-of-the-nighter, and I have also found solace in the research. Honestly, I would have no issues with the whole “two sleeps” concept if I had a flexible work schedule. My current go-to strategy is to stay in bed, don’t look at the clock, and write stories or poems in my head, Sometimes it even works, though I’ve also done the slip-downstairs-and-fall-asleep-after-writing thing. I love the vision your mind called up and that you shared with us. Your posts are always such a pleasure to read!


  6. Sleeplessness is a common topic of conversation in my family. Lately, I have been going to bed past 1:00 am and have stayed awake for an hour or more. Of course, I am on medical leave this year so I can afford to do that. Nevertheless, I worry about going to sleep late or not being able to sleep through the night, but your post has given me a new perspective. Sometimes we try to fight sleep, but maybe we should just embrace wakefulness instead and use it productively; sleep will come soon enough and if not, there’s always coffee in the morning! I think it would be better to just do what feels right instead of feeling like we are doing something wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter causes more anxiety.


  7. I had middle-of-night restlessness last night, and it was very difficult to maintain my teacher enthusiasm today. I really like that idea of 1st sleep and 2nd sleep…usually though, once I’m up, I’m up. Interesting post!


  8. Okay. Word Press lost my original comment. 😭 I love this post. Love knowing others awaken planning tomorrow’s lesson. I still do that. Love the research woven through the personal.


  9. I feel as though my life will be forever changed by this post since I had no idea about the first and second sleeps. I will begin to look at middle-of-the-night wake-ups differently because of this post. THANK YOU for sharing that tidbit.

    I, too, sometimes wake up to work or write in the middle of the night. And, just like you, I wrap myself in a blanket since I fleece doesn’t feel as cozy when I wake up in the wee hours of the morning.

    Glad your second sleep came to you!


  10. Love this post, Amanda. It’s so real and in-the-moment; relatable, for I wake up like this in the night, too; it’s what the Scots call the “wee smas” (wee small hours) like in Anne of Green Gables. The hyperlink is your hallmark touch of fabulous humor – it’s somewhere in every post! Perfect balance here. And so informative re: Middle Ages. What love best is the stirrings of story. 🙂


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