There are those who, rather than fight insomnia, decide to embrace it. Los Angeles musician and sound artist Jean Paul Garnier is one. Garnier’s erratic sleep pattern inspired him to begin work on an eight-hour composition called “Sleep Map,” which he hopes one day will help others get a good night’s rest. This week he told his story on the radio station KQED.

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Photo by Steven Cuevas, KQED

“I remember going back to when I was 5 or 6 years old being an insomniac,” he told reporter Steven Cuevas. “Because it’s been so long and I’ve fought against it for most of my life, I’ve been happier and my life’s been better since I decided to embrace it and work with it instead of fighting against it. So now, that’s just what’s become normal in my life and it works for me.” (For the full story, click here.)

A Night Owl?

This raises the question of whether Garnier is just naturally a night owl—a person whose body clock runs late, who stays powered up till the wee hours and then habitually sleeps till 9 or 10 a.m. While this may in part be true, to hear Garnier talk, his sleep is broken and completely unpredictable. Typically it comes in short bursts rather than in a single consolidated period. But now, whatever odd hours Garnier is awake, rather than lie in bed agonizing about it, he’s up in his sound studio composing.

I wouldn’t trade my now-more-regular sleep pattern for Garnier’s irregularity. Been there, done that, and it didn’t work for me.

All the same, I envy a guy who can marshal enough brain power to “layer isotonic tones” and create “ambient, ethereal music” at 2:22 a.m. In my case, my brain checks out somewhere around midnight. Not only is trying to do anything intellectual then impossible, but it hurts! Not to mention the achiness of my arms and legs which, on really bad nights, crave immobility. The idea of actually getting up and doing something—never mind being productive—is anathema! I’d rather kiss Newt.

On the other hand, if I had it in me to create beautiful soundscapes at 3 in the morning, I don’t think I’d resist departing from social norms and making peace with erratic sleep. In sleep as in our waking hours, we’re all different, and the consolidated sleep pattern held up as a model by sleep experts today is not for everyone.

What activities do you do when you’re awake at night?

Posted by 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 Comments

  1. Paul Garnier has found the waking/sleeping pattern that works for him. For people who have families and nine-to-five jobs, his pattern would probably not work. The value in reading this little piece is that it reminds me to never stop looking for the pattern that supports my deepest purposes, whether I’m an insomniac or not. Thanks for this interesting post, Lois.

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  2. I agree, this erratic sleep pattern would never work for people with children & normal work hours. But when you’re free to set your own schedule, why not choose the glove that fits best?

    When insomnia enters the picture, though, lots of people feel like they have no choice, like they’re being led by the nose by a force they can’t control, and this can create big-time anxiety. It certainly did for me.

    Making peace with an erratic sleep pattern wasn’t the way I chose to go, but it works for some people. I admire anyone who finds a way to live in harmony with their natural predilections.

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