Don’t you love sleeping and dreaming? I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Not just the act itself though but the whole ritual;
the moment you say to yourself “Yup, today is essentially over and I’m going to bed”, the ablutions, slipping under the covers (I like lots of covers), the reading or watching tv, finally giving in and turning onto my stomach and putting my arms under the pillow (yes, I know this is poor sleep posture).
The drifting-off period can be fun too. Sometimes I hear noises that I know are just audio hallucinations. These are a form of hypnagogia, a phenomenon all skeptics should be familiar with. To reproduce this, think of your name over and over as you go to sleep. I bet you’ll hear it as if someone was saying it.
Sometimes your body twitches when you drift-off. This is called a hypnic jerk. This is still a puzzling phenomenon but some experts think it results from the transition of your muscles to a fully relaxed state. Perhaps the brain interprets this as falling so it causes the body to thrash about in an attempt to grab something or to right itself………silly brain.
Then of course come the glorious dreams. How weird that we must enter such a bizarre state of consciousness for a third of our lives.
I’ve never had a problem sleeping or going to sleep. My mother and brother Jay though have huge sleeping problems. A full, restive, drug-free night’s rest is a dim memory. I feel very bad for them and I’m also very nervous that at some point I’ll start having similar problems.
It’s funny, because as much as I love sleep, I’d also love to do away with it. What a massive waste of time it is. If you live to be 100, then you’ll have spent at least 30 years unconscious to the world, cycling between the nothingness of non-rem, non-dreaming to a bizarre dreaming awareness in which we are so out-of-it that a pink unicorn at the quickie-mart seems normal to us.
Do you know what I could have accomplished in that 30 years??? I could have earned multiple PHDs, read more books, spent more time watching my daughter grow-up, watched more QVC. For this reason, I think we’ll eventually obviate sleep, or at least minimize it. It seems to me that completely removing sleep would be horrifically difficult to pull off. I remember one scientist describing this as requiring a reorganization of the brain itself to pull it off. All mammals sleep after all. This behavior is intimately interwoven into our physiology. I do believe however, that one day we’ll have the knowledge, technology, and desire to pull this off.
For now though, minimizing sleep would be a best of both worlds scenario to me. There are people after all that get by just fine with absurdly low sleep requirements. It seems reasonable to me then that we could eventually shrink the requirement of sleep from 7 to 10 hours a day to perhaps 2 or 3. That way, I still get my beloved sleep rituals and dreams but I also don’t waste a third of the rest of my life prone with unicorns in my head.
If you’re a sleep fan like me then I recommend an article I just read. It describes dreaming not as an altered form of consciousness but as consciousness itself absent any information from the senses. Harvard sleep researcher, Dr. J. Allan Hobson believes that the brain is essentially “warming its circuits” at night in anticipation of the panoply of information and emotions wakefulness will bring. When we are awake then we are in some sense still dreaming but our mind adapts the dream images to what we see and hear. I’m not sure what to make of this yet but it’s an interesting read.