Enter the Nightlands: My Nocturnal Lifestyle, and the Perils of Sleep Cycle Inversion


I just got back from a coffee shop that’s one of the scant few businesses open past midnight around here. It’s always interesting to see who shows up. An insomniac cross section of society, ships passing in the night, as we’re unlikely ever to run into each other during the daylight hours.

The moon was beautiful tonight. Being that it’s Summer, the air is warm enough even after the sun has gone down that it’s comfortable to walk around outside in a regular button down shirt, or with a light jacket. The night air felt cool and familiar on my skin, in particular the fine hairs on my arms.

Everything looks different in the nightlands, but no less beautiful. Trees in particular take on an ominous tone due to the complex shadows they cast on themselves. Every small movement, leaves rustling due to a light wind, seems to suggest something is hiding amid the branches and preparing to pounce.

Street lamps replace the sun. Like small stars yanked down from the heavens for our convenience, flickering at an almost imperceptibly rapid frequency. Confused moths flitter about the lights, mistaking them for the moon which their ancestors navigated by, before humans invented candles, light bulbs and other sources of light pollution.

Once you become comfortable with it, the dark is no longer frightening. Because you’re no longer a trespasser in it, you’re a native of the shadows who belongs there. Like the biologist who lives in the field for weeks or months in order to witness rare sights they never could during brief visits, the long-term inversion of your sleep cycle will change the way you see nature at night.

Sleep cycle inversion tends to happen when I am finally comfortable somewhere. Which is why it’s bittersweet and a touch amusing I might have to move out of this house, as apparently I’ve finally settled into it.

It’s something I fall into easily, having always been a night owl with an addiction to the internet and games. I’m certain it’s terrible for my health as it’s resulted in my distinctively pallid complexion, permanent bags under my eyes and a feeling of weakness in spite of all the lifting I do.

90% of businesses are off limits to the nocturnal human. But that’s somewhat helpful. The normally paralyzing over-abundance of choice is swept away, you are instead presented with a small selection of places to eat, drink, and write that you may never have noticed or considered patronizing during the day.

On the way you’ll pass others who are awake and out walking along the sidewalk at such an improbable hour. Who could they be? What’s their story? Do they have legitimate business which keeps them up so late, or are they like you? Trapped in a vicious cycle from which no escape seems possible.

It almost seems tenable. Once you ease into it and become acclimated, I mean. Your energy returns to you an hour or so after you awaken, the same rush you get about an hour after waking up in the morning. You go through your normal morning routine of a shit, shower, brush and a shave, the only difference is the darkness outside your window.

Perhaps if you have a sense of humor you even fix a bowl of cereal. Recently I have taken to going out to parks, as living this way does not diminish my desire to be immersed in flora every so often. I don’t use the car’s heater on the way. I’m slowly discovering how malleable the human body is.

When I moved back from Florida to Oregon, I was cold all the time for a year or so until my body finally re-acclimated to the local climate. As it’s generally cooler during the night, if you’re only ever outside at night, eventually your body begins to acclimate to that temperature range.

So it is that on the rare occasion I’ve had to be awake and outside during the day, I found it unbearably hot and bright, even for Summer. The night air has cooled my blood in a lasting way, and it would be such trouble to transition back that I wonder if I shouldn’t just keep living like this.

There is a certain appeal to the mostly-empty streets. Driving is less stressful. I can jog without feeling self-conscious. At times, during the brief periods when I can see no trace of human activity in any direction around me, it feels like I am standing alone at the end of the world.

Perhaps I am? Time will tell. This nocturnal lifestyle has been making me ill recently though, and it hurts my productivity, hence the 50% reduction in my recent output. I can’t let that continue much longer with SBD so low. But sleep cycle inversion and depression seem to come as a package deal.

I feel myself growing colder. Duller, indifferent. The bleak, grey feeling sets in. During these long nights, I think about Laura. I read an old post of hers from just a few months before her death where she talks about how she’d regained her will to live. It still seems impossible, what happened to her.

How can the universe permit something so horrible? How can reality allow it? She is gone, but I’m still here, languishing in this sunless purgatory. The disappearance of light and warmth from my life in more than one sense, somehow I survive and continue existing.

Damn me, for that. Something inside forces me to keep going long after I’d like to have stopped. It’s a ride I can’t get off, and “a book I am forced to continue reading” as she put it. I am in no danger from it though. I assumed she was like me, that hopelessness only reinforced her resolve.

I don’t know what to do, so I just drive. The moon looming large above me, some podcast or another droning on just so that I have a human voice besides my own to listen to. The tired looking face at the drive-thru window is similarly refreshing, as direct face to face contact with other people is rare at this hour.

It is a lonely way to live, but I am a lonely man. I am surrounded by people who love me during the day, but that’s a relatively recent development. Just a few hours after the sun goes down, everything goes back to the way it was five years ago. Just me, all alone in a cold, dark world with only the sound of my own breathing and heartbeat for company.

This is hell, surely? But then, why do I feel as if it’s also home? There has never been such a natural fit for someone of my disposition. No matter how many accept me into their lives, fundamentally I still feel like I am on the outside of that world, looking in.

There is such safety and comfort in that conspiratorial feeling of existing in the world but not participating. Like a silent observer, documenting what you see but never becoming too involved. And when night falls, I feel as if I am backstage of the world, moving discreetly through its service access corridors to better perform my work.

Part of me longs for a return to sunshine, bright colors and happy faces. But within my heart, there is also a nameless conviction that none of those things were ever meant for me. That my part to play is the lonely ghost who moves from shadow to shadow, at once in the world and separate from it, with the moon as his only companion.

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