Have you ever thought about sleep? I mean, really thought about sleep? It’s such an odd thing. We go to bed, most of us at night. We lay our heads down, and somehow magically, we become unconscious, and we are sleeping. We may sleep, 5, 7, or 9 hours, but when we wake up it’s like no time has passed. We are unaware of time moving while we are in this state of unconsciousness.
The other odd thing about sleep is when we cannot sleep. Sometimes I fall asleep and wake up about an hour later. I start thinking about falling back asleep, and then the sleep will not come. In fact, thinking about falling asleep keeps me from falling asleep. I can’t figure out exactly what causes me to fall asleep. As a child, I slept well. The only times I did not sleep well was the night before the start of a new school year, and of course, the night before Christmas. Both of those nights were filled with anticipation of what the next day was going to be like. Even in the book, “The Night Before Christmas,” the children were not sleeping. “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.” Yet all the drawings of this show them sleeping–I think not. I think they were too excited to sleep and they, like the rest of us had trouble falling asleep that night. Eventually, though, I fell asleep.
What is it that happens when we fall asleep? I did a little research on it to see what I could find out. We start out with a light sleep which is N1 stage, and we move onto the next stage which is the onset of sleep (N2). We become disengaged from our surroundings. True, I feel my pillow and blankets while I am laying in bed, but once I fall asleep, there is no notice of my surroundings. My breathing and heart rate are regular and my body temperature begins to drop. The N3 stage is where we get our deepest and most restorative sleep. Our breathing becomes slower, and our muscles are relaxed. Although our muscles are relaxed, they are now receiving a greater blood supply and tissue growth and repair occurs. This is also the stage where hormones are released, such as growth hormones. Do you remember being told as a child that you needed rest so you could grow—well, that is what is happening.
We all sleep. It is something we all do in common. Some sleep better than others. My husband can hit the pillow and be asleep in seconds or minutes. I marvel at his ability to do that. Very seldom does he say that because he was solving world problems and couldn’t sleep. When I am stressed with things going on in my life or planning big project that must get done, my brain starts working when I lay down on the pillow. I start thinking through scenarios of problem solving. Then I tell myself I need to stop and go to sleep, but I cannot fall asleep if I am telling myself to fall asleep. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a sleep button. Just press it and sound sleep occurs.
I am a fan of the TV show, “This is Us.” The other night I watched it, and the character, Deja, was talking to her foster dad about sleep. She said, “Isn’t it weird how everyone goes to sleep at night—like everyone in the whole planet? All these people. People I’ll never know. Some are poor. Some are rich. Some sleep in beds. Some sleep on the floor. But, at the end of the day, everyone sleeps.” Yes, it is the one thing we have in common with everyone in the world. At the end of each day, our bodies need rest, and we were created to sleep. Not only do we sleep, animals sleep. I wonder if they ever get stressed and have trouble sleeping? Funny thought, if I must say so myself.
I just find it amazing the state of unconsciousness that I don’t feel anything physically, and don’t see time moving while I am asleep. Rest is good. God rested on the 7th day. If we were in charge of our own bodies, I think we would try to find a way not to sleep. We would want to keep accomplishing. But, we are created to rest and restore ourselves physically and mentally. Time is supposed to stop for us even though it is marching forward.
Everybody sleeps. It is a shame we have to set an alarm to get up to accomplish our next day. It doesn’t seem a natural way to awaken, but we try to burn the candle at both ends, and we are not getting enough sleep. Mornings become tough. When I was working, all I wished for was a good night’s sleep, but somehow, I never felt I had enough. Now that I am retired, I pretty much wake up at the same time each morning, with the exception of the nights my brain wants to solve the world’s problems (or mine), but I can no longer sleep until noon like I could as a teenager. In fact, I don’t like sleeping in. I am afraid I will miss out on some time that I could be doing something. Maybe that’s a sign of aging. I don’t want to miss out on whatever amount of life I have left. I want to experience everything around me.
Also, what about the times when we don’t want to sleep, but our body wants to sleep. What’s with that? Watching movie, or sitting in a lecture, or a company meeting—we feel ourselves drifting off. So we have times when we want to sleep and we can’t, and times when we don’t want to sleep and we could fall asleep on a dime.
As I was going online reading about the scientific data on sleep, I found a quote from a person who wrote a book about sleep. Apparently, people have always had issues of falling asleep. He shared a few of his favorite findings of trying to aid sleep in early modern Europe. Before I give you these ideas they had, I thought it would be good to understand what time period we are talking about as “early modern Europe.” Here is what I found: “Early modern Europe is the period of European history between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century.” So now you know, in case it ever comes up in a conversation! Here are three “interesting” remedies people used in those days:
- Put some blood-sucking leeches behind your ears. When they bore holes in the skin, pull them out and place a grain of opium in each hole. (From 16th-century French physician André du Laurens.) Umm, no! I’m not a fan of leaches or narcotics!
- Kill a sheep, and then press its steaming lungs on either side of the head. Keep the lungs in place as long as they remain warm. (From 16th-century French surgeon Ambroise Paré.) That just seems like a lot of work if you cannot sleep. Get out of bed, get dressed, go outside and slaughter that sheep, and what are you to do with the rest of sheep you slaughtered? Roast a bit of mutton during the night? Too much work to be a practical remedy, if you ask me. Also, it says to keep in place as long as it remains warm. If I fall asleep, then I am not longer aware of my surroundings—so that doesn’t work—I won’t know when those warm lungs have cooled off. Nope, not the answer.
- After the evening meal, eat lettuce, drink wine, and rub an ointment made of the oil of violets or camphor on the temples. Dissolve a mixture of poppy seeds, lettuce seeds, balsam, saffron, and sugar and cook it in poppy juice. Then listen to pleasant music and lie down on a bed covered with the leaves of fresh, cool plants. (From 15th-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino.) The first part sounds good until I got to making the “potion,” which the poppy juice sounds like a bit of opium to me. This looks like it says to eat a good meal, drink some wine, cook a mixture in a bit of narcotics, and listen to good music. Most of that works, except for the part with the poppy juice. No, not for me.
I think that if I cannot sleep at night, I will just stick it out. A little bit of sleep one night will allow me to fall asleep easily the next. I think I am getting sleepy. Did I fail to mention that I am writing this in the wee hours of the morning on a night that sleep is not coming easily.
Good Night. Sweet Dreams!