To Sleep, Perchance To Do So In Less Than an Hour

Waking up is so hard to do.  I like stretching out, flexing my poor knee and ankle joints, re-molding myself around the pillows, finding a cool spot on the sheets, and closing my eyes against the creeping morning light, hoping that that dream of, what, swimming off a Queensland beach? will come back and I can forget the world for another 30 or 45 minutes.

I am not one of those people who hears the alarm go off and bounds out of bed.  That would be the person on the other side of the bed who does that.  He can also fall asleep in about 18 seconds, right after closing his eyes and breathing in deeply twice.  I, on the other hand, take my time falling asleep – at least as much as I do waking up.

Again, there is a little gentle stretching & flexing to be done – ankles, knees and shoulders, eased into position after a long day of alternating between sitting at the computer screen and walking around in small circles talking my way through another story.  The big fight is with the pillow and my “Princess & The Pea Head” – a head and neck that must be supported just so, no more and no less, before I can begin to feel comfortable.  So once all that is accomplished, there’s the need to slow down the brain, to turn off the problems that vexed me during the day, to keep them from challenging them during the night.

It’s actually not that difficult, I’ve learned to turn off what’s happened in the course of the day.  The harder part for me seems to be stopping the imagination from running riot in other haven’t-happened or unlikely-to-happen directions.  Miss Hagen, my Grade 1 teacher was more right than she knew when she wrote on my report card, each of the three terms, that I had a vivid imagination.  For example, one night last week, I taught myself how to wind surf.  In my head.  And undoubtedly incorrectly, not the least because I am The Most Clumsy Person you will ever read about.  But nevertheless, after several spills and a nasty little bump on my elbow, I got up and skimmed quite happily along the beach for a few minutes!

Surely this is not… usual… bedtime stuff?  And I suspect is one of the reasons why it takes me so long to fall asleep.  Still, even when I’m not being physically active, in a mental way, if you understand what I mean, my brain will churn out ideas and people and pictures and sometimes even smells – or the reminders thereof – that keep me mentally engaged too long.

I came to consider all this when I was reading a novel over the weekend that wasn’t particularly good (and which I did not finish).  Although not written well, the central idea in the book was what intrigued me to borrow it – a woman who is sleep deprived because of her job, her two very small children, a husband who works weird hours, a mother who is almost as demanding as the kids, just “turns off”.  We’re supposed to think that she’s in a catatonic state, the result of exhaustion and pressure.  But we learn that, after the first day when she really did physically collapse because of the pressure and desperate lack of sleep, she’s been faking it.  Maybe.  It was confusing and I lost interest in the lead character frankly because all she did was complain.

But the idea – and my own understanding of how incredibly sleep deprived we are as a culture, and how that affects us all in physical, intellectual, emotional and even fiscal terms – remains with me.  Sleep is not for sissies.  It’s for all of us, to stay healthy and active and intellectually capable.  Not to mention out of ERs!  The eldest child of a Navy friends of ours died when he fell asleep while driving, and I lost a CFOS colleague for the same reason.  That’s just plain scary – and so, so sad that so much potential was lost for the lack of 40 winks and a warm blankie.

Here’s a little-known sleep fact for you: the circadian cycle of a teenager actually demands that most of them fall asleep later and wake up later (like bedtime at midnight or 1 a.m. and a wake-up time of 8:00 or 9:00 a.m.).  Blaming a kid for having the lights on at midnight and not being able to get up at 6:30 catch that bus isn’t fair to what Mother Nature wants from them.  And if we really wanted kids to do better in school, we wouldn’t start high school until 10:00 a.m. & have it run until 4:00 or 4:30; at the very least the more intellectually demanding classes, like maths and science, should not start until after noon, when the teenaged brain is more fully engaged.  The reason we can’t get away with a later school day start  is the adults who teach the teenagers, because most of them – the adults I mean – have circadian rhythms that wake them up naturally around 6:30 or 7:00 and send them to nap time at around 3:00 (if they could take the time to nap at work, of course, which should be encouraged at every work place, but that’s another discussion).

Here’s to you, Mr Sandman.  I’ll try to be a little easier on you tonight.

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