In French nuits blanches, white nights, are nights were you don’t sleep at all. It’s an affliction not uncommon to frequent travellers. Changing time zones, seasons, countries. Strange rooms, beds, sounds and smells. Any number of factors can bring one on. A restless sleeper, over-sensitive to light and noise, I get them all the time. Deep exhaustion combined with an unfamiliar environment and an inability to sleep leaves you in a peculiar, hallucinatory state. You feel anxious and alone. Your worst thoughts go wild. The night seems to stretch on eternally. They’re hell.
Although I’ve never found a cure for them (medication is useless in the night and ruins the next day), there is a way to improve them immeasurably: don’t stay in bed. Go out and explore. Cities are transformed, abandoned, and all your own. I’ve spent hours wandering by the canals of Venice without seeing another soul. I’ve watched Paris wake up just before dawn. I’ve seen Oxford, timeless and empty. I’ve gazed up at the stars in Texas as they disappeared, one by one, in the morning light.
The trick is no less transformative in even the most seemingly familiar of places.