We take sleep for granted. Or, if you have always had problems with sleep, slept lightly or were prone to broken sleep, over time you develop ways of managing it so it isn’t a big deal.There are a steady drip of discussion about every aspect of sleep and its role in your life from power napping to not getting enough rest, while texts on beauty include rest, rest, sleep – usually as the only inexpensive thing in the article. Most of us don’t think about sleep until we can’t. And I belong to that group of people who think if you can’t sleep there must be a reason for it, usually anxiety.
Will the money go round, is there going to be any work, will this group like what I submitted to them, how will I manage, what will I do?
Whatever your worries, the wee small hours distort them. The quiet, the darkness or in the city, the strangely lightened disturbed night sky make things more isolating, more uncomfortable, less easy to resolve, except for those largely unappreciated souls who exist on night shifts, who get out of bed, prepare and get on with it, no time for repining. The theory is that you adapt and in your conscious mind you may, but shifts disturb your body systems.
I have worked through the night from choice (different again) when it’s wonderfully quiet, the phone doesn’t ring and the pieces that refused to assemble during the day fall into shape. And then I am OK till about 4.00 the following afternoon when my mouth tastes of tin and my eyelashes ache. A couple of nights of that and I darken to taupe with charcoal overtones, handsome on a hunting dog, not so hot on me, and I begin to feel cold.
Momentarily he’s off the scene but I find my eyes open at 4.10 am with monotonous frequency. So I read.. I have a friend who has been on this schedule for years and makes up for it by having a rest in the afternoon. Again, you’re told how to do this – darken the room, take your clothes off, get into bed properly. But I have a comfortable couch and I may just fall asleep on that. I wonder – is the sleep of a different quality if you prepare for it differently or not at all?
An insomniac friend wore me out complaining about how tired she was (never tired enough not to talk about it), explaining why she couldn’t put the light on, found reading unsettling, didn’t want to take “anything” – from proprietary brands to prescription drugs – and the underpinning of all this was that she thought she ought to be able to sleep and was mightily miffed that she couldn’t. (Ought and should are dangerous words). She was ten years older than me and a terrible warning, beached within herself, unable to help herself or be helped.
Another whose sleep I have reason to believe is just as disturbed rarely mentions it. She had night horrors as a child and thanks to the profound common sense of her parents, has accepted that this is as much her as the colour of her eyes. When opportunity arises (she works seriously hard and is unfailingly helpful to many of us) she will go to bed early with a movie and allow herself time out.
Recently Morpheus cut me some slack. After minor realignment of furniture which in most small flats means major rearrangement of books, papers and so on, I was happily tired and spent the evening bouncing between Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable” and Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I, both films that please me. I paddled off to the kitchen, put in the eye drops (incipient glaucoma), took half a Nytol and slept sweetly. And I went to sleep three more times during the day that followed. I felt wonderful but guilty – why was I sleeping so much? What was the matter with me? Until I remembered the received wisdom of the generations – the body says “enough” and you sleep because you need to.