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…
How and why does the time so fly? It has been six days since my last post and I don’t know where they went. The days whisk past like leaves blown off a calendar: I can hardly remember what I did during those six days apart from hosting a 60th birthday party – the rest is a bit of a blur. Perhaps because of said birthday party…
But alas! The same cannot be said of my nights. The nights do not fly by. The nights crawl on bloodied knees like penitents on pilgrimage; they slouch towards Bethlehem like Yeats’ rough beast; they ooze and creep like lava: in short, I have only to lie my weary bones down in a darkened room for the brain to get up and stand over me with a long to-do list and insist on checking off every item and discussing them in detail. Then, having allowed me to doze fitfully until the small hours, it wakes me again with a completely black canvas labelled ‘The Future’. There’s no arguing with this blackness: I know very well that at this hour the blood-sugar levels are lowest, conspiring with the lack of daylight to produce Unbalanced Visions, but still it refuses to go away. And once I’ve spent an hour or two wrestling with it, the clock is creeping uncomfortably close to seven.
At such times, catching up with sleep becomes the main purpose of my day. Normal life is gone and will resume at that point where sleep is sufficiently caught up with: but that point recedes like a desert horizon as I advance towards it. It’s as if my mind is being managed by the most tyrannical of bosses. Whatever I try, he’s got the answer. Meditation? – all I need to do is hit you over the head enough times and you’ll soon stop. Relaxation? Fine, go ahead – you’ll never manage to relax me. And so on. I feel for insomniacs, I really do – because it takes over your life. Sleep becomes your raison d’etre. Sleep and only sleep.
And yet no-one really knows why we do it. It’s not just in order to rest: if it were, we’d feel sufficiently replenished after an afternoon’s sun or an evening’s telly. No; as a yoga teacher of mine used to say, the body needs rest, but the mind needs sleep.
Everyone knows that without sleep you eventually go mad. It’s the easiest form of torture and nowadays sleep seems harder and harder to get: we are more stimulated, more subject to noise and stress than ever before, and our sleep suffers.
I’m not like this all the time. I have periods where I sleep quite well: I know what it is to wake in the morning feeling refreshed. And my techniques do work – at least some of the time. But when that bastard brain gets it into his head to torment me – well, then I’ve had it. But I’m not giving in. I’ll beat the bastard yet.
Finally caught up with the full Archbishop vid yesterday. Apparently the fuss was over him using the word ‘shag’ before the watershed, and it wasn’t the C of E who complained, but members of the public. So now we know. And what did I think of it? Well, normally I think Atkinson is God: in comedic terms, there is nothing he can’t do. However this was perhaps not his finest hour; a tad vitriolic, I thought – but still, offensive?
Here it is:
On the plus side, I watched the edited highlights of Comic Relief and donated a few quid, enough for a mosquito net, or so I’m told. So that’s something. You can donate here:
I hate taking steroids. I haven’t taken any for decades and would have wished to avoid it now, but when leaving one room and entering another leaves you short of breath – well, needs must. But last night I couldn’t sleep; I feel continually hungry and I’m sure I got angrier with Holly last night than I would otherwise have done – and I’m fairly certain these are all side-effects of the dreaded S.
Quite apart from Comic Relief, the weather is having a laugh. No-one else is finding it funny, but I’m sure there has to be a poem in there somewhere. Daniel wrote a poem at college yesterday; I thought it was pretty good. I don’t have permission to put it on here but I’ll ask.
Sorry it’s a short post this morning. I’m not really myself at the moment.
So. There you are. 7.15 am and still asleep, huh? Whadayamean, it’s Sunday? For some of us, sleeping till 6 am constitutes a triumph. Yes, Mark gave me some different medicine and it worked! I had to pee twice (OK I know you didn’t need to know that but no-one else is awake so there’s only you I can tell) and I went back to sleep. Until now, the notion of going back to sleep has been utterly alien to that perverse part of my mind which controls these things.
A real fire last night. I did some chopping and got some smokeless coal and we had a roaring blaze going. The quality of the heat is different, somehow, plus it heats the rest of the house to some extent because it warms the chimney. Unfortunately I also chopped my hand, though only bruised it. Comfrey cream sorted that out – plus a ritual dance on one leg, shaking my hand and yelling.
Church today, then I think a walk in Bradgate Park. Haven’t been there for a long time. To boggan or not toboggan – that is the question.
Have you seen the moon recently? Last couple of nights it’s been a really thin crescent, hardly there. Apparently there’s a total eclipse soon (lunar not solar).
A good time at Alan’s yesterday. Saw Colin (pronounced with a short o as god intended) who I haven’t seen for several years and reminisced about Hounslow.
Feeling very positive about Christmas now.
Have a good Sunday.
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