UTNE Reader, May 99'

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Awakening to Sleep By Karen S. Rigdon A Reflection and Summary on Journey to Center of Sleep by Bill Hayes UTNE Reader, January  February 1999

I asked an old friend of mine for his recipe for a good nights sleep. Thats easy, Wally answered quickly with a mused yet serious expression on his face, Pay your bills on time, sleep with your own wife, and go fishing at least once a week. Wally is a member of that fortunate population that falls into a deep sleep the moment their heads hit the bed pillows. Others are not so lucky.

Bill Hayes, author of Journey to the Center of Sleep from the UTNE Reader, January  February 1999, is one of the unlucky insomniacs who toss and turn in the darkness instead of peacefully resting. One of Hayes friends prescriptions for a good nights sleep is whiffing dirty socks before turning out the lights (p. 70). Hayes finds that home remedies such as this are no more effective than aphrodisiacs (p. 70). He has also given up sleeping pills because the difference between drugged and natural sleep eventually reveals itself [in the body], like the difference between an affair and true romance (p. 70).

The quest for the solution to the problem of his sleeplessness became an obsession for Hayes. This obsession lead Hayes to delve into his familys history of sleep patterns, to observe others as those dozed in public, to study the beliefs of the ancient Greeks, Aristotle and David Hartley, and to investigate research results of sleep scientists throughout the century. Hayes was also fascinated with the periods of rest in a fetus in the mothers womb and questioned whether one would dream in utero.

In this article I was introduced to Nathaniel Kleitman, a Russian-American doctor who studied the effects of sleep deprivation in the 1920s. Kleitman,the dean of sleep research (p. 71), disproved the accepted theory of his time that mysterious toxins in the blood built up over the day and caused fatigue. Kleitman established the first sleep laboratory and made rousing new discoveries about sleep disorders, dreams, the sleep cycle, and sleep deprivation. In an experiment with a colleague, Kleitman lived in nearly total darkness and silence to attempt to alter his natural circadian rhythms that command a 24-hour day and revolve around the rising and setting of the sun.

I was amazed by some of the slumber numbers included in this article from American Demographics, October 1998. Only 25 percent of the sample population said they always got a restful nights sleep and 66 percent said they considered sleep a necessity. I do consider sleep to be a necessity and just as important as eating the right foods and balancing work and play. Unmerciful insomnia plagued me several years ago, when I was having chemotherapy treatments for cancer, so I can empathize with insomniacs. I cherish a good nights REM sleep and am grateful for all four of my pillows and the blackout shades on my bedroom windows.

An introductory comment included in this article from the editors says that insomnia cruelly denies its sufferers a brief escape from their own company and that in every age and culture, the mystery of sleep outlives all explanations (p. 68). I believe that people who are denied this escape need to learn relaxation techniques as well as learning how to halt worrisome thoughts at bedtime. I also value the rewards of a clean conscience as my friend Wally suggested in his joke. Much is yet to be discovered about the multitude of sleeps facets but one thing is certain  a good nights sleep is a coveted and precious gift.

-- Anonymous, April 27, 1999

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