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.
Image credit: Moyan_Brenn/Flickr