Dreamland: Adventures in Sleeping

Sleep is the best meditation. ~ Dalai Lama

One morning recently, I slept until 8:30.  It felt so good to wake up naturally, rather than being awakened by an alarm or my spouse or cats climbing on me. My early-bird spouse was out of town.  Also, I invested in a good eyeshade.  I had tried the free ones you sometimes get in a hotel, but they never worked for me.  I am very sensitive to light in the bedroom.   My husband says I must have thin eyelids because I see light even when my eyes are closed.  In our bedroom I have arranged to block sources of lights from charging electronics and the clock radio.

Hotel rooms can be a problem.  I place a book over the clock radio, but cannot block tiny lights on ceiling smoke detectors or fire sprinklers.  The line of light under the hotel room door that shines in from the hallway can also be a distraction.  If the drapery doesn’t fully overlap, the light from the parking lot or adjoining buildings keeps me awake or causes me to wake earlier than I want to.  Now I carry a clothespin in with my travel toiletries to hold the curtains together.  Blackout linings are my friends.

In our bedroom at home we have blinds on the three large windows, but they do not block the light.  Light filters in from streetlights, full moons, reflections on the snow in the winter.  In the winter when the days are so short and the nights are so long, sometimes light still disturbs me.

I feel out of synch with the natural world and with the Unitarian Universalist 7th principle — respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  For me that includes the rotation and angle of the sun that determines the seasons.  Although I have no plans for retirement, I find myself looking forward to the time when my bedtime and my waking up is not determined by employment.  During the short days of winter I feel the urge to crawl under the covers when the darkness settles in, even if the clock tells me that it is still early.  I want to let my body set its own sleep cycles, enjoying the longer days of summer and the longer nights of winter.

For several years I would wake up in the early hours of the morning and lie awake for hours, dragging myself through the following day.  Now I have moved past that and can usually sleep for the full 8 hours that we hear as a goal.  But I recently read an article that indicated that allowing an 8-hour block for sleep is not optimal — or even natural for that matter.

David K. Randall, the author of Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep,
points out that in several countries (such as Spain, India, and China) napping after lunch is common.  What I found fascinating is that there are reports from France and England that refer to the first and second sleep of the night.  Sometimes this is called segmented sleep and includes a couple of hours of waking time which was used for study, reflection, dream analysis, or lovemaking.

I used to toss and turn during that wakefulness, fretting about the sleep I was losing.  I even would resent the cheerful mood of my husband who slept soundly for consecutive hours during the night.  Perhaps I should give myself up to the natural rhythm and embrace those hours in the middle of the night.  Listen to some music, contemplate the seven UU principles, or watch my husband and cat sleep.

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