Added later: I’m at the Chestunut Hill Coffee Company outside Philadelphia; best Latte I’ve ever had in my life. As we age, so I’m told, we don’t need as much sleep — or, with a darker twist, as we age we may not sleep as well. What do you do when you can’t get to sleep at night?
Before I reveal what I do, let me urge you to purchase and use — when you can’t sleep — Phyllis Tickle’s brand-new The Night Offices. A brief on fixed-hour prayer. The hours of prayer are roughly midnight, 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm. This does not mean a full hour of prayer, but the time at which one stops what one is doing, turns to God with hosts of Christians around the world, and sets a set prayer — usually some Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, and some other fixed prayers. (Some had eight, not seven, hours — adding one at 3am or so.)
I’ve gone on record to tell my story — and you can read about it in Praying with the Church. And I’m fixed when it comes to morning and evening prayers — early in the morning and after dinner. But the Church also has prayers for other times: midnight (10:30-1:30am), night watch (1:30-4:30am), and dawn (4:30-7:30am).
So, here’s a “fix” for nights when you can’t sleep. If it is late at night, pray the Midnight Prayers, or in the middle of the night pray the night watch or the dawn prayers. When you awake, instead of listening to radio or watching TV, why not open up The Night Offices and pray with Christians around the globe?
Now I know this book was not designed for insomniacs or for those with sleep disorders, but for the regular wakening in order to pray in a disciplined manner. Still, for those of us who have no intent of awaking at midnight, or 3am, or 4:30, in order to observe an hour of prayer, but who find themselves awake unintentionally, I’m persuaded this can be a good “fix” for those times.
Now, I don’t have trouble sleeping very often; I hit the sack about 11pm and sleep until … well about 4am or so and then fitfully until about 5:30am or so. Then we’re up and ready to go. Sometimes, though, I drink too much coffee or take a nap too long that keeps me awake at night. From now on, The Night Offices will sit next to my seat on the sofa and I’ll turn to spend some time in prayer with the Christians in my time zone who are up saying their prayers — many of them monastics. They may notice my presence; maybe not. But, I’ll notice theirs as we chant a psalm or two and remind ourselves of our place in this world: before God, in prayer.