There was a special feature on cable television about the science of sleep. And it was quite interesting. And as all interesting things go, it raised as many questions as it gave answers. Quite interesting to note that the most fundamental question of all is still quite a mystery, that question being: Why do we sleep at all?
The scientists should have asked their own moms. We sleep so we will grow. People who skip sleep become “putot”, which is the local word for short. The word is synonymous to the fruit of the coconut when it falls before it has grown to mature size.
Hey! Wait a minute. Why is that a disparaging word? So what is wrong with being short? Is it only an extension of our colonial past that we obligate ourselves to being tall? Or is this quest for height universal?
Ask Mom? She, who for years in our childhood practically dragged us to bed, ordered us in and when that did not work scratched our backs until we were lulled into dreamland. And she might have hummed for us some forgotten lullaby that will infiltrate our dreams for the rest of our natural lives making such inexplicable hits as “Gangnam Style” possible.
Mama, why do we sleep?
So you will grow up tall and strong, dear child.
And so we marked our adolescence by finding out how far we can go without sleep. This was in a sense our rebellion against the child still inside us. We marked our coming of age by staying up as long as we could. Which did not please our Mamas, of course. But we were older by then. We could stay up from time to time. Only babies sleep all day and all night. And so in time we learned to party.
To be sleepless is the essence of the party. Why do we party? We party so we can greet the early morning still up and awake. There is something about being up come midnight which puts the nostalgic warmth into our hearts. We know we are going to pay for it the next day when we wake up badly dehydrated and our digestive cycles ruined for the rest of the day. And yet we do it. We are better than Cinderella. We pass the midnight hour without our carriage horses turning to mice. We have no glass slippers to leave behind. This is what we work so hard for. And we have friends to be sleepless with.
And when we do sleep, we sleep because we’re tired. The more interesting the day the more tired we are when we finally come to bed. That’s just the way it is. But there will be days of course when sleep does not come too easy. There will be days when we feel the full weight of impending doom, a disaster perhaps waiting for its day to come. Or perhaps we have only been working too hard. We toss and turn in bed. Sleep becomes elusive. What to do?
Some will tell you, there are secrets to the craft. Pop a pill! Ah, but that’s no good. You wake up feeling tired still. And those things can become addictive. Better to find a better way.
Those of us who have religion can always turn to prayer. Or draw on faith to tells us there must be a higher logic to our miseries whatever they might be. Someone watches over us and things will be alright in the end. Besides this, there are yoga exercises to encourage sleep. Or one can always try self hypnosis. Or if not that, there is always reading. Don’t do those gossipy glossy magazines. Try a big book with a big heavyweight name like Kant, Marquez or Eco.
You can do one or a combination of many. But in the end they all come down to these: the bed, the big fat pillow, which reminds us of Mama or that young woman who lovingly once turned us into a man for the rest of time. Or the other way around if you’re a woman. Or an alternate combination of possible pairings if you’re a complex person. Whatever the case, the pillow is your friend. It is even more loyal than a dog.
Settle into its coolness. Feel how well it holds you and softly brings you to Birdland. Stupid scientists! Why do we sleep? Because sleep is so wonderful, so wonderful, wonderful, wonderfully wonderful, nice.