I’ve remarked before how strange it is that one of the conditions of being human is that we have to collapse into unconsciousness for a long stretch of each day.
This condition non-negotiable. If we try to ignore this basic requirement, we quickly become dull and irritable, and eventually start hallucinating and going mad. Even though we can’t opt-out of the need to sleep, we often shrink it, delay it, shave it down at either end, or complicate it with drugs and artificial light.
Everyone has their own private relationship with sleep. For some people, slipping into unconsciousness is the easiest and most gratifying part of everyday life. For others it’s a confoundingly difficult thing to do—stress keeps you awake too long, and staying awake too long makes you stressed. Some people go to sleep easily but wake up at 3:40am, alert as a hawk, and know that’s all the sleep they’re getting that day. Others espresso their way through the workweek on four or five hours a night, and sleep till 1pm on the weekends.
Our relationship with sleep is central to our lives, yet for many of us it’s a neglected or strained one. Unlike many other kinds of relationships, we can never walk away from it. Our only option is to improve it.
I just read Patricia Marx’s article “In Search of Forty Winks” in which she and several sleep-dysfunctional colleagues auditioned over a dozen increasingly ridiculous commercial sleep aids. They tried a FitBit-like device that’s supposed to mildly electro-shock you into a relaxed state; a set of earplugs meant to mask your partner’s snoring with a waterfall sound; an “ostrich pillow”—a stuffed, balloon-shaped garment which fits over your head like a swollen medieval cowl (with mouth holes of course); and a battery-powered face-vibrator that reduces the appearance of your dark circles when all of these sleep aids inevitably fail. Read More