Sleep! A Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

Yes, It Is!

What is Sleep, Exactly?

Well, as near as I understand the science, we really don’t know, exactly. Sleep, that state of being that consumes about one-third of our lives, is a bit of a mystery. We know it provides a physical and mental recharge of sorts, but exactly how that works is still not clear.

There are people who do not sleep at all and they seem no worse for that fact. There are not many of them, but enough that science can confirm there does exist a biological construct that does not need sleep. For the rest of us, our ability to function without it declines precipitously in just a few hours.

Our fascination with sleep is deep and wide. Just look at all the books and articles that seem everywhere advising how to get better sleep. I was struck a few years ago when Arianna Huffington sold her very popular and profitable news service, The Huffington Post, to concentrate full time on sleep study. She, of course, published a book on the subject. It seems everyone is on the hunt for better sleep.

Why Is Sleep a Good Thing?

Sleep is a good thing for obvious and for not so obvious reasons. It recharges us in several ways. It provides an opportunity to break the chains of concentration and consciousness that otherwise occupies our minds. In a sense, it provides an off ramp, an opportunity to “shift gears.” On a more superficial level, it provides opportunities for builders and designers to create spaces and platforms (beds) to accommodate the need to sleep.

Sleep also provides a bit of sociological commentary as well. Think about how your bedroom is arranged and what your bed looks like. All that says something about you and the society you live in. I think back over the beds upon which I have laid my head over the years – the images tell stories about my life at different times.

I have slept on cots, water beds, air mattresses, a bed  a friend and I built out of bamboo, and more. I have slept on mattresses made of feathers, foam, spring, gel – you name it. On more nights than I care to remember, I slept on the ground, pretty much unadorned with any comfort elements. Being a soldier tends to lead to such choices from time to time.

Today I enjoy a massive (king sized) bed, with an articulated mattress that twists and adjusts all sorts of ways, resting on a lovely large mahogany frame. It feels like me in appearance and style. It would not have a few years ago. We change over time; our sleep related choices reflect those changes.

Sleep also provides social distancing and a chance to spend time not engaged with others. Of course, it can also provide the opposite, but that is another discussion, isn’t it? Maybe another time.

And a Bad Thing?

Here I have to confess a bit of a personal perspective, one that I expect not many share. I enjoy a good night’s rest as much as anyone, but overall, I resent sleep. It is a thief of my time and ability to think or act.

Think about it. Something like 1/3 of your life is spent unconscious, recharging your batteries. What if you did not have to do that? It would be the equivalent of gaining another 20-30 years of productivity. What a gift that would be!

People generally seem to be night owls or early birds. As I mentioned in an earlier post a couple of years ago, I have tended to be both. See if you recognize any of your sleep patterns in mine.

In years past, I often got a “second wind” of energy and creativity around 11 PM that would run until about 1 AM. But I also have always been an early riser. That is probably a natural tendency, but lifestyle reinforced it. One of my first jobs was as a morning paperboy at age 14. I needed to get up about 4:30 AM to pick up, sort, and deliver my papers in time to get back home and ready for school. As an Army officer, I got to work most days a bit after 6 AM.

Do all that over a lifetime, and you are an Early Bird. To this day, I feel cheated if I wake up and find the sun already up. I like to beat the sun in starting the day. I enjoy having that first coffee in darkness, outdoors if the weather allows, listening to the birds singing and the sun warming the air. It’s a darn nice way to start the day.

A Thief in the Night

So, I enjoy the late evenings. I enjoy the early mornings. The time in between is lost to me – and I would like to have it back. I have things to do, studies to conclude, material to read, thoughts to ruminate. If only I could eliminate sleep, I could get it all done. Maybe. But alas, the physiology of human anatomy demands sleep for most of us.

I try at this stage of life to sleep more, and notice a price paid when I do not. But I kind of resent it. Anytime I wake up, I do so wondering what the world has been doing without my supervision/inputs while I slept. I admit that feeling came with a sense of dread during the past US Government administration, but that happily has passed.

Perhaps one of these days, we will figure out how to recharge like an electric car rather than sleeping. What might we do with the extra time? What would we do with the space that used to be bedrooms? I think it would be fun to find out. What do you think? Would you like the extra time or do you enjoy the downtime and the social construct around sleep?

         Bill Clontz

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