This is dedicated to the nighthawks and graveyard shifters, you beautiful enemies of sleep. My schedule has drifted into the late-night hours during this season of sheltering in place. After several miserable experiments with eating yogurt and saying hello to the sunrise, I’m no longer kidding myself. Accepting that I’m nocturnal in my bones brings the same relief as walking away from a bad party.

Strange how staying awake past midnight feels like rejecting the premise of wholesome citizenship. “Thought leaders” and self-improvers love to crow about waking up at six o’clock in the morning; nobody brags about waking up at ten. There’s a moral dimension here that must be destroyed. I’m proud that I wait until deep into the night before I go outside to look at the sky or run through empty streets. This is social distancing.

Recent sleep studies suggest our circadian rhythms are deeply ingrained, that the “night owl gene” plays a critical role in the survival of animals that live in groups. These species fare better when some members watch over the others at night, protecting them from predators, a trait that has persisted from the ice and stone ages through these days of neon and sodium lights.

The “sentinel hypothesis” is a love poem to the long-haul truckers and security guards, the swing shift nurses and factory workers, the insomniac writers and music-makers. We are proud descendants of the honorable night watchman.

From Within – A Million Miles to Earth

Pete Namlook and Richie Hawtin | Fax, 1994

One of the most beautiful night songs I know. A good soundtrack for reading about the sentinel hypothesis.