It’s a weird thing, sleep. Without it we lose concentration, feel shaky and ill, struggle to regulate temperature and metabolism and eventually lose our wits. Yet we’re no nearer to knowing why we sleep and what it actually achieves than we were thousands of years ago.
But we do know, instinctively, that sleep is not a homogeneous essence. Not all nights are created equal; it is possible to sleep less but feel more refreshed than if you’d slept twice as long. Quality of sleep is the key thing here, but what does that involve?
A yoga teacher of mine was fond of saying ‘the body needs rest but the mind needs sleep.’ This is why babies sleep so much; because everything is new to them and they have to process information. One day we were eating Indian snacks and our ten-month-old daughter picked up a very hot samosa and bit into it before we could stop her. We were horrified and reached for the honey (sweet things are the best antidote to spices, much better than water) but she screamed once and then fell instantly asleep. Her mind needed to process the information, and when she awoke she was perfectly fine.
We too need to process the experiences of the day. OH has a theory that the dreams you have earlier in the night relate to problems whereas those in the early hours are about solutions. So what’s happening when we dream is that like some giant search engine the mind is looking for solutions, and somehow our dreams are the representation of that process.
OH also says that the best person to interpret a dream is the dreamer themselves. I think that’s right; nowadays we don’t believe in universal symbols or external explanations but look to our own experiences and our own psyche. Unfortunately I often don’t remember my dreams, but when I do I usually have some sort of explanation as to what they mean.
It is said by yogis that the more time one spends in deep meditation the less sleep is needed. Unfortunately at the yoga centre where I lived in Madrid it was assumed that we’d already got to that stage, so we were woken at a quarter to six for a six a m meditation. Even this was a concession to the Western lifestyle as Swami Sivananda had originally said we should be waking at four. I was usually shattered by the afternoon.
Sleep deprivation is one of the easiest forms of torture to practise – and right now the sun is doing a pretty good job of keeping me up at night and waking me in the wee small hours. I don’t want to be grumpy about midsummer but right now we haven’t even got any sun; it’s just cold and rainy…