I’ve been a ‘night person’ for as long as I can remember. There’s something about the nocturnal hours, when the city slips into shadow and lamplight, that inspires more than the mundane period that precedes it. This is the time when the unusual and the extraordinary come to the fore: ‘creatures of the night’, ‘things that go bump in the night’ & ‘the witching hour’ are all expressions referencing the subterranean things of the world that come out after dark.
Rupert Brooke remarked in a letter that “cities, like cats, will reveal themselves at night”. In urban areas, night time has long been a liberating time for people from subcultures. Inhibitions are lost, some feel able to express themselves without the shackles of their daytime personas. For me, its rather less dramatic than that.
When I was little, being expected to sleep at 9pm seemed totally unreasonable. I’d read for hours (stories come to life most potently at night), and my sister and I would talk for ages back when we shared a room. Later as a teenager with more privacy I’d listen to terrible radio shows like Jezza’s Virgin Confessions (an early incarnation of the Jeremy Kyle show) as I did my homework until the small hours. Even now during holidays from work, I revert to a night-heavy sleeping pattern, watching Netflix, reading and processing the world.
A couple of weeks ago I discovered an apt description for my nocturnal tendencies: nyctophilia, finding comfort and respite in the darkness. My own night time activities don’t quite match the cocaine-fuelled glamour of Weimar Germany, but it remains the period of the day in which I’m most mentally switched on and intellectually engaged. Fast Company recently wrote about how we do creative work better when we’re tired, based on research. Insomnia has been responsible for some of the greatest pieces of literature of our time, including Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
Sadly, 9-5 jobs don’t accommodate this kind of creative freedom. Our culture remains biased towards early birds, who turn in at 10pm every night and miss out on the potential of those dark quiet hours. As I look out on a black Irish winter night, let’s imagine a time when we truly have flexibility to follow our own unique circadian rhythms.