Night and Sleep Don’t Mix

Sleep scientists are still trying to figure out why 10 to 15 percent of us have trouble sleeping at night. Normal sleepers are in the majority; people with insomnia are the deviants.

But is insomnia really so odd in view of all the crimes and disasters that have occurred at night?

Sleep scientists are still trying to figure out why 10 to 15 percent of us have trouble sleeping at night. Normal sleepers are in the majority; people with insomnia are the deviants.

Nights in Ancient Greece

But looking back 2,700 years to the time when Hesiod wrote his Theogony has made me see the issue in a different light. Night, says Hesiod, was the mother of a spectacularly unsavory brood. Not only did she produce the brothers Sleep and Death. She also gave birth to the forces of Doom, Ridicule, Woe, Deception and Strife. And wouldn’t you know it, Strife went on to outdo her mother in pernicious progeny, giving birth to Famine, Combats, Contentions and Murders, not to mention Lawlessness, Lies and Recklessness.

Did many ancient Greeks sleep through the night in peace and tranquility? I have my doubts.

Let’s not forget the famed Trojan horse, whose hidden warriors emerged at night, opened the city gates to their warrior fellows, and so conquered Troy. Or the frightful nights of the Middle Ages, when the rear watchman patrolling the streets by torchlight offered scant protection from evil supernatural forces or criminal and political violence.

More Infamy at Night

“Night,” the Canadian poet Christopher Dewdney has written, “has been the traditional shelter for revolutions, military attacks, freedom fighters, and various insurgencies but it has also covered pogroms, suppressions and vigilantes. The lynch mobs of the American Wild West rode at night, as did the Ku Klux Klan.” Kristallnacht occurred at night, Dewdney points out, as did many Nazi atrocities committed against Jewish families in the Warsaw ghetto.

What about disasters caused unintentionally by human hands? The poison gas leak in Bhopal began shortly after midnight. The Exxon Valdez ran aground shortly after midnight as well. The partial meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island began around 4 in the morning.

Most murders occur at night. A majority of domestic violence and rapes do, too. Most deadly residential fires occur between midnight and 6 a.m.; most sudden infant deaths, between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.

The mystery is not that 10 to 15 percent of us have persistent insomnia. It’s that normal sleepers sleep so well.

Author: Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

2 thoughts on “Night and Sleep Don’t Mix”

  1. Wonderful little essay. I’m not insomniac. I read more to enjoy Lois’s writing style than to learn about sleeplessness. All her research pays off, not just in information she can pass along, but in her large, sympathetic view of human affairs.


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