What is it about sleep that makes every person crave it every night?
If I were a movie Star, I’d probably be the dwarf Sleepy from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, or perhaps the narcoleptic character from ‘Feeling Minnesota’. Sleep has a way of catching up with me, whether I want it to or not.
Not all people sleep the same way. Some people can thrive on three or four hours per night, and wake up with a bright smile, admittedly after a cup of coffee. I’m entirely different. I need about seven or eight hours per day, one or two of which are best served in the afternoon. Saturday afternoon sport doesn’t work for me. The sight of my bed is like the half-remembered drone of an old lullaby. Just the thought of it makes me dozy. On the other hand I can wake up and be functionally alert within a few seconds.
I have been known to do without sleep, once even for the period of 68 hours. These instances are rare, usually driven by the prospect of large amounts of money or accompanied by vicious comments about bumbling time management on the part of inept colleagues.
The natural pattern of sleeping at night and being awake during the day also eludes me. During rare holidays, my natural pattern is to sleep as much as possible during the day, make good use of the beautiful sunset and the cool night hours, and hit the sack just as the first indigo band of light illuminates the horizon.
Until the birth of my daughter, sunsets were an almost entirely foreign concept to me, half remembered from my days at school. In fact, the first I can clearly remember was on the day before my daughter was born. Nowadays, I am horribly familiar with sunrises and am even beginning to appreciate their aesthetics and the pleasure they can bring to a strong cup of coffee.
Waking up with the sort of indecently aggressive attitude of being ready for anything is the second most important aspect of sleep in my book. Far more precious are the few moments just prior to sleep when interesting ideas and strange visualizations swirl through my head.
Occasionally, these are worth capturing but invariably I am too deep in a torpor to drag myself up and note them down. I have also found that the ideas are fleeting and by the time I have ungummed my eyes, found the pen and fumbled with the nearest scrap of paper, the idea has evolved into an overriding imperative to get back to sleep.
One noted eighteenth inventor and intellectual solved the problem by falling asleep in an armchair with a notepad and pen next to his right hand and an iron ball in his left. The hand holding the iron ball was poised above a cast iron pot, so the moment he drifted off, the rude awakening would ensure that his ideas were captured for prosperity, or at least for the next morning, assuming he got any sleep at all.
Perhaps, in this, we can find the origins of the expression, ‘sleep on the problem’.
The importance of sleep is illustrated by the horrible symptoms of sleep deprivation: disorientation, black spots in front of the eyes, garbled thoughts, paranoia, hallucinations and other disturbing types of behaviour. Without enough sleep, we would all behave and react like teenagers!
On the same tangent, a close analysis of history and the behaviour pattern of noted figures who shaped the course of great events will show that the pressures of the moments inevitably forced them out of any semblance of normal sleep patterns. Perhaps the world would have been a different place if all of them had been sent to bed early with a cup of hot milk.
Sleep seems to balance us out. One sleep researcher used the apt analogy of sleep being akin to clearing out the buffer memory of a computer. The Australian Aborigines cherish the idea that sleep takes us to a different, spiritual world, separate in time and space, called ‘The Dreamtime’, where we can better see things in their true perspective.
Whatever it is about sleep, whatever the biological, psychological or spiritual need it fulfils, it is precious. If I ever have the time to take up a hobby, sleep will probably be it.