The Power of Sleep

Carl Pettit feels sorry for the American insomniac, from sleepless in Seattle to the city that never sleeps.

Sleep is a gorgeous thing—a cosmic ocean of ambrosia and LSD laden waters gently drowning its victims with its smothering embrace. Wild images and emotions rush though its seemingly infinite currents, populating our dreams with voyages of adventure and cryptic messages from our personal and collective pasts. The ebb and flow of sleep’s monumental tides have the power to heal, and when ripped away from our lives, the power to destroy as well.

I’ve always been a lover of sleep. It’s something that comes easily to me. Even two cups of coffee before bed won’t get in my way. The problem is waking up. When I used to climb mountains (small mountains), the will it took to drag my oxygen-depleted body up to a final summit was often less than the will I had to muster in order to wake before dawn and prepare for my climb. During my childhood, my parents would wake me for school. It wasn’t an easy task. My mother would issue countdowns to consciousness and eventually pull the covers off my bed (trying to freeze me awake, I guess), while my father would burst into my room and sing the most obnoxious song he knew as loudly as he possibly could. Even those cruel tricks often fell short of the mark. I might be up and about, but my mind was only half there, still clinging to the burrowing warmth of slumber.

When I meet people who have problems sleeping, my heart goes out to them. Life can be difficult, and overwhelming at times. When the hard pace of modern existence, compounded with personal problems or tragedy gets me down, a good night’s sleep, or a small (or lengthy) nap is the medicine I reach for first. The healing power of a deep snooze cannot be understated. While it won’t solve all of our problems, it allows for time to shift our (gloomy) perspective, and provides us with an opportunity to recharge the body and mind, which can make all the difference when confronting life’s many challenges.

Americans, unfortunately, are leading the way in global sleep disorders. The fast pace of life, worry over finances, high health care costs, a poor diet, caffeine binges, technology (endlessly surfing the internet) and a disconnect from the communities surrounding us are just some of the causes. The speed of what we do and how we do it is only going to increase in the future. I worry for my friends, or anyone who has experienced bouts of insomnia for months, years, or perhaps a lifetime. True, there are drugs out there that can usher in the onset of sleep, but drug-induced slumber is a poor substitute for the real thing.

There’s no magic bullet that will help an ever-increasingly sleep deprived populace get the rest it needs (regardless of what drug companies tell you). Meditation, a balanced diet, regular exercise and a sanctuary-like sleeping environment (no video games or large screen televisions in your bedroom) are some of the oldies but goodies that can reduce anxiety, calm the mind, and help knock a person out. A lot depends on the root causes of sleeplessness, and the type of sleeping disorder someone has. The brain craves rest, but oddly enough, the body and the overworked mind don’t always accommodate the brain’s requests.

I understand that not everyone shares my caveman like relationship with sleep, and if drugs are the only avenue open to slumber, which seems to be the case for more and more of us, that’s an option that can’t be ignored. Yet even so, I hope as a society, as the speed of human endeavors revs up through time and space, we remember the fundamentals inherent to the maintenance of mammalian life, and we’re still able to find a balance that allows us good rest, and pleasure in the healing powers of natural sleep.


Read more of Carl Pettit’s weekly column, Root Down, on The Good Life.

Image credit: Moyan_Brenn/Flickr

About Carl Pettit

Carl Pettit is a writer, illustrator and musician whose education and travels have taken him all over the world. When not out exploring, or pondering the universe, he finds time to produce fiction for both adults and children. You can catch up with him on his blog, or twitter.


  1. …the fact that I just clicked on the link for this article when its 2am and I should be sleeping, feels slightly ironic.
    I wish I was a sleeper/napper I really do! While I love the result of sleep, the refreshing feeling but I just prefer being awake, doing things, thinking lucidly, problem solving, working, partying. This often backfires.
    Winding down and getting to sleep is so boring to me. Sleeping past 10am makes me feel like I’ve lost half my day and uncomfortably lazy. Power naps would be wonderful but I psychologically cannot get to sleep when its light out, despite the fact I’m desperately tired-days aren’t for sleepin’!
    So I caffeine binge like a mofo even tho I’d prefer sleep, I have to, to get me through.
    Medicinal holy grail-Actual sleep in a bottle. Now that’d be somethin’ I would buy in bulk.
    You sir are blessed, for your natural affinity to fall asleep. It’s a gift.
    I should try a bit of it now.
    Good night!

  2. As one of those who has suffered sleep problems for much of my life, I also consider sleep gorgeous! For me, 5 or 6 hours is a great night – one I’m grateful for.

    In a way, it’s helpful when you tend to have a “creative” life (odd hours of work); then again, sleep deprivation takes such a toll on so many areas when it goes on and on… So I’m with you on that desire to hibernate in the cave and enjoy. Now if only it didn’t require a beach, preferably on a foreign seashore…

    Great article.

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