Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sleep, and other maladies

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

Sleep is one of the most mystical and yet truly quotidian events of life. Adult humans spend about a third of their lives sleeping. All homeothermic vertebrate mammals sleep. REM seems essential to restful sleep. My father, who lapsed into a deep depression near the end of his life, was afflicted with insomnia. His sleep, even the induced variety left him more tired when he woke. Perhaps he was unable to dream.

Sleep deprivation seems to be a favorite means of torture. Considered non-invasive, it still leaves scars on the psyche. Our circadian rhythms are disrupted, and this affects more than the body, as any medical student can affirm. Sleepless nights, whether in Seattle or not, can mean a terrible day. Polyphasic sleep, or short siestas can help ease the tiredness.

The physiological aspects of sleep are well studied, yet still little understood. The Non-REM and REM phases alternate, and the REM phase is the more erratic, causing changes in blood pressure, heart and breathing rate, as well as clitoral and penile engorgement. The brain is very active in REM, related to the dream states experienced.

A dream goes through the phases of hallucination, delusion, emotional identification, amnesia of sorts, and cognitive surrealism. REM has been found only in mammals and young birds, indicating that dreaming too is perhaps related to evolutionary changes. I've noticed my dog dreaming, and can tell why my young baby is having a dream. No way of telling though, what dogs and babies dream of.

The motivations for sleep lie in preserving circadian rhythms, although numerous theories point to metabolic, developmental, and learning/analysis explanations for sleep. A spiritualist might consider sleep a time for "dulcis sermonicinatio". Many a problem, challenge or tension is resolved in sleep.

A comfortable bed and sleeping position is paramount. This is a topic of much worth, and little agreement. I tend to adopt a semi-fetal position to my right, on an IKEA Malmo futon, for now. Despite all theories to the contrary, women own the bed, and we men are mere guests at their convenience. That too, is a topic of some interest, but perhaps for another time.

The Macbeth-like fear

Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep', the innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,

The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,

Chief nourisher in life's feast,...

can be counter-poised with Ogden Nash's more jocular, perhaps dream-inspired response,
-- Ogden Nash

The ravelled sleeve of care, O Sleep,
Knit up or not. I shall not weep.
Make up your mind, or leave it lay,
I’m fortified, whichever way.
Farewell, farewell to Morpheus’ arms!
Welcome excursions and alarms!
Murder will out, so will the night,
Far sooner than this bedside light.
When borogoves grow over-mimsy,
Destroy them with Lord Peter Wimsey;
When landlords lurk upon the morrow,
Sneer Gallicly with Hercule Poirot,
Or with your thumb in some forlorn dyke,
Refresh your soul with Doctor Thorndyke.
Let Strephon dream of merry maying,
I much prefer a ghastly slaying.
I find myself a sounder man
For Father Brown and Charlie Chan.
I hug myself and holler “Champion!”
When I encounter Albert Campion;
To me like the Golden Fleece to Jason
Are Inspector French and Perry Mason,
And blissful am I when a handler
Of anything by Raymond Chandler.
Indeed I’ll even take a chance
On Ellery Queen and Philo Vance,
Enduring barely in the latter
The mannerisms for the matter.
More soothing than the genial toddy
I hold a mutilated body.
I’ve watched with fascinated eyes
Detectives fall, detectives rise,
And racing through a thousand tomes,
Reflect, There’s no police like Holmes.

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader