Monday, July 07, 2008

Why Sleep?

Why do I resist sleep so intransigently?

For instance, last night I was tired at 1 AM, playing on the computer, but I didn't want to go to bed. You can't do anything when you're asleep. You might be missing out on the second coming, who knows? And my long practice as a doctor and father made the alone time late at night a tradition, a time for myself.

So what did I do from 2 AM to 4 AM? I lit a cigar and read Martin Rees's "Six Numbers." I came back to the computer and listened to a new album by Fleet Foxes. In bed by 4 AM, I read some of a John Lescroat crime novel. And finally I slept.

I could have slept earlier, I should have slept earlier, as I awoke feeling as if I'd started my sleep cycle too late so that quality sleep escaped me. I got up at noon, have my coffee and medications going now, but it was not pleasant to wake up. My body was lead, my head molasses. I wasn't hungover, just sleep-deprived. Why? Because I didn't listen to my body. My body wanted sleep at 1 AM. I forced it to stay up until 4 AM. Oh how I mistreat "Brother Ass!"

Sleep means the fun is over. Sleep means the end of consciousness. Sleep means immobility, vulnerability, insensibility. It is a form of death, though a living death. I do not look forward to bed the way my wife does, who enjoys her sleep, who prizes her sleep, who needs at least ten hours of sleep a day while I can get by on six. To her sleep is a welcome envelopment; to me it is a thief. A thief of time and action. A thief of activity, desire and thought.

Yes, I dream. And I remember quite a few. My latest dream was of deer prancing through my broccoli patch. Must get chicken wire on the ground of the border so their little cloved feet will avoid my new fall/winter vegetable garden. But you can't chase real deer in your sleep. And you can't guard your broccoli, kale, swiss chard, cabbage and brussel sprouts.

Sleep? Sleep is for pussies. Sleep must be resisted. Sleep steals our lives away.

Did you know biologists have never come up with a purely scientific reason for a need to sleep?

Yesterday the cats brought a shrew in to play. It managed to crawl inside the bathroom scale. For hours they watched the scale, waiting for it to come out. When it did I rescued it from their claws, and amazingly it wasn't hurt.

Have you ever held a shrew in your hand? It is the hummingbird of mammals, with the highest metabolic rate. Though tiny, you can feel its intense body heat. And the shrew was very tractable; it didn't squirm or try to escape. It struck me as a sluggish creature, a creature that might enjoy sleep--except that it has to eat two or three times its body weight each day just to keep the engine running.

That's what animals do all day, if you didn't know. Eat, eat, eat. Watch a deer or a cow sometime. Oh wait--many cats just sleep, sleep! And dogs, too. But they have been ruined by domestication. They ought to be out hunting until they're sleep deprived.

Tell me, are you one who welcomes sleep or resists it? Is it a comfort and relief or a threat to your existence? Do you resent sleep as I do or welcome it as Kathleen does? All I can say is that it strikes me as a colossal waste of time, but I guess it's unavoidable, so I should take a healthier attitude towards it and jump under the covers--no, lie down lazily--when my body signals it's time.

But what about one more drink? Half a muffin for dessert? That Simon and Garfunkel song you haven't heard in so long? The value "omega" in cosmology? Whether mini-black holes are part of dark matter, or is it just brown dwarves, or more likely something else? Maybe an old, mediocre poem to revise like a cat playing with a shrew? You see my point since I've made my point pointedly, though I hope it doesn't interfere with your sleep.

Will I ever make peace with sleep? For my health's sake I hope I do. But I feel so gypped by its existence! Thief, thief!




  1. My natural internal clock is antisocial. My best hours, the hours when I feel more alert and productive, are from about 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. and I'm just exhausted by 7 a.m. Unfortunately, society doesn't like my hours and so I'm always fighting my sleep habits.

  2. Did you ever notice that women sleep a whole bunch more than men? And they live about 8 years longer than men. Hmmmmmm ...



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