it’s 3 a.m., I must be worried

Dad always said don’t believe anything you think at 3 a.m. I mostly don’t. But that doesn’t stop me from worrying about it.
Something about seeing the “3” on my digital clock radio alarms me. It means I have not gotten enough sleep to start another day, yet have gotten enough that it’s going to take an act of Congress or God to get me back to sleep.
If it’s 2 a.m., OK. I’ve got plenty of time to get back to sleep. Four a.m., fine; if need be I can get up in an hour and not be a zombie all day. But 3 a.m. is a problem. If I don’t get back to sleep now, my little panic button tells me, I’m going to feel really crummy today and be about as productive as Gomer Pyle.
It also means I’m going to start worrying, real soon.
“She says baby, it’s 3 a.m., I must be lonely.” My band, The Honeytones, used to sing that ‘90s pop hit by Matchbox 20. It’s about a woman with issues, who “can’t help but be scared of it all sometimes” and hands the singer a raincoat because “she’s always worried about things like that.”
I feel for her. I don’t worry so much about rain, but pretty much everything else is on the table at 3 a.m.
When am I going to ever catch up on that writing project? How am I ever going to get the living room ceiling painted? Why do my ankles hurt when I run? Where is the money going to come from? How come Verlander suddenly can’t find the strike zone?
And so on. It’s a miserable litany of fussing, a muddy stream of consciousness that just keeps burbling and splitting into a million aimless rivulets. One thought leads to another. Pretty soon I am trying to solve Syria.
Usually this leads to getting up, putting on the warm milk and reading something neutral, like baseball or a Wendell Berry short story. Sometimes that process leads to falling back asleep in the reading chair and waking with a sore neck. It’s a long way around to getting a half-decent night’s sleep.
Why get up? Because there’s nothing worse than lying in bed worrying. It’s like being on the rack, a kind of existential torture. The longer I lie there, the worse my life gets.
And as Rob Thomas’ tortured song suggests, it’s lonely. To just lie there alone at 3 a.m., fretting about everything while most everyone else is asleep, is lonely indeed. Maybe I should just get up and take long walks, like Charles Dickens did through dark London streets.
It is only a little bit comforting to know some form of insomnia afflicts many other people, some of them geniuses. compiles a list of impressive insomniacs, including Groucho Marx, Madonna, Abraham Lincoln and Arianna Huffington, who reportedly became an anti-insomnia crusader after passing out and breaking her cheekbone.
There must be a prayer for this.
Mine usually takes one of two forms, more mantra than prayer. You are blessed, you are blessed, I repeat to myself. Or, Just rest yourself, just rest yourself.
It’s possible these prayers are a hidden blessing of 3 a.m., a going to God because all else has failed. If so, I am grateful for that. After all, many perfectly good prayers arise from desperation.
However, I would much rather sink into the sweet sleep “that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” as Shakespeare wrote. I have plenty of other things to pray about, and there’s a full day ahead.

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1 Response to it’s 3 a.m., I must be worried

  1. michael honey says:

    Brother Charles, this all sounds too familiar, but in a very droll way. Even the difficult things in life can be made better by levity, as you prove over and over again. One thing I do at 3 am when I am consternating is to gnash my teeth. I wonder if that would help? It doesn’t sound like you have tried that. If the warm milk doesn’t do it….
    By the way do you know about 5HTP? like melatonin, it helps you get to sleep– but it doesn’t unfortunately keep you asleep. Deep breathing! Dad used to do it, he told me, in moments of late night panic, and it worked. cheers from your bro

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