Jennifer Goldberg on Staying Up Late

I consider myself a champion insomniac; at times I go days without catching a single wink. I’ve been this way since childhood and can still remember every late-night creak and groan in my parents’ house, which I’d hear as I lay wide awake, willing myself to drift off. It can be terrifying and lonely, this perpetual wakefulness. But it can also be fascinating and even romantic to experience the stillness of night. Of course, I’m not alone—there are millions of night owls like me who live a secret nightlife. I’m captivated by stories and depictions of what it’s like to be up late, because it helps mitigate the sometimes isolating and even naughty feeling of being awake when I shouldn’t be. Herewith are five explorations of the world after dark.

Jennifer Goldberg spends her days as a Toronto-based web editor at a leading health magazine and her nights staying up way past a reasonable bedtime. She aspires to one day be told that she snores. Follow her @JennMG

1. Confessions of a Sleeping Pill Junkie

At its worst, insomnia is a scary and painful affliction that can leave the sufferer desperate for one good night of sleep—even if it means begging your doctor for a prescription. I know many a troubled sleeper who can relate to the situation Laurie Sandall writes about in this confessional. Her description of panicked and anxiety-ridden sleepless nights, achingly exhausting days and, finally, an addiction to Ambien is bitingly honest and brave.

2. Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”

Vincent van Gogh painted The Starry Night during a time when he wrote of fearsome bouts of insomnia. The piece has been woefully overexposed, having been printed on everything from calendars to mouse pads. But looking at it through the Google Art Project has renewed my appreciation for this masterpiece. To me, the painting is a depiction of the night through an insomniac’s eyes–the darkness is portrayed as both terrifying and beautiful. Zoom in all the way to see the strokes of paint that make up the night sky.

3. Taking Advice

Desperate for professional help during a particularly bad bout of insomnia, I visited a doctor who advised me to “take a warm bath.” Seriously, he even wrote it down on his prescription pad. Though I was badly suffering from exhaustion, I just had to laugh. People offer all sorts of absurd advice to insomniacs, a subject author Sarah Vowell hilariously explores in this excerpt from her book, Take the Cannoli. My advice: Read this to take the edge off a stressful sleepless night.

4. Sleepless Nights

In this gallery of photographs, French artist Antoine D’Agata captures the hazy, seamy and gritty quality of sleepless nights. The images are by turns disturbing, beautiful and bleak. I love the blurred effect D’Agata uses to depict a delirious dream-state, hovering somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. I’m particularly fond of the fourth image in this series, shot in Istanbul in 1999. The photograph evokes the seedy mystery of nightlife with the glamorous, grainy quality of film noir.

5. “Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac With Susan Michelson)”

Who embodies the romance of nightlife better than Tom Waits? I love this song because it’s so deliciously dark and grimy. It was recorded in 1975 as part of the album Nighthawks at the Diner, which music writer Daniel Durchholz describes as “a trip through the midnight-to-dawn streets of Los Angeles that the beautiful people never see.” The album’s title alludes to the famous Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks, in which four people sit in a diner late at night, each absorbed in his/her own thoughts. “Eggs and Sausage” evokes the melodramatic strangeness of being among the late-night customers of a 24-hour diner.