It is so ironic, so irritating and ultimately so depressing when the butterfly you chased all day and caught by twilight loses all the beauty and life it had when it was free. Between my palms, the tired creature wilted. I had pursued butterflies for years and this one fit my palm just right, and yet I had to let it go. It was not mine. She was not mine.
So here I am, eyes wide open, staring at the evening sky, waiting for sleep to fall from God’s hands. Is He too busy visiting everybody else’s dreams? It’s been weeks of sleepless nights. It’s tormenting. I love sleep. Why does sleep have to wilt away with her?
For centuries, sleep was viewed as an annihilation of consciousness. Now scientists regard the sleeping brain as “an active, purposeful machine, a secretive intelligence that comes out at night to play” — and to work—during periods of dreaming and during the netherworld chasms known as deep sleep.” I’ve long suspected that writing actually gets done in your sleep, and what you do when you’re awake is basically transcription.
“Now, a small group of neuroscientists is arguing that at least one vital function of sleep is bound up with learning and memory. A cascade of new findings, in animals and humans, suggest that sleep plays a critical role in flagging and storing important memories, both intellectual and physical, and perhaps in seeing subtle connections that were invisible during waking — a new way to solve a math or Easter egg problem, even an unseen pattern causing stress in a marriage. The theory is controversial, and some scientists insist that it’s still far from clear whether the sleeping brain can do anything with memories that the waking brain doesn’t also do, in moments of quiet contemplation.”
Again I will tell you, I love sleep. I never had trouble sleeping. It’s a gift. When I was in college I would board the bus, lean against the window, fall asleep, and wake up three minutes before my stop. On long-haul flights I am asleep even before the plane takes off. I suspect most of my work gets done in my sleep. (If your boss catches you snoozing at your desk, try this explanation: “I’m working”.) If I have a deadline looming, I take a short nap; when I wake up, the article has been worked out in my head and I just have to write it down (though there is no guarantee that it’s any good).
The only time I cannot fall asleep is if I have to get up early for an important appointment: then I spend the whole night checking the clock to see how much time I have left. Without my nine hours of sleep I am useless; I spend the whole day plotting a nap.
Recently I had a bout of insomnia that just about drove me bonkers. I would go to bed at my usual time, 2 or 3 am, then spend the next four hours waiting to lose consciousness. It was exhausting. I tried counting backwards from 1000, listening to nature sounds, various non-pharmaceutical remedies, nothing worked. Maybe I should have just gotten up and read a book or watched DVDs, done something constructive until my systems shut down for the day, but I kept expecting to fall asleep any second.
Then when I finally dropped off from sheer exhaustion, it wasn’t the deep, sticky, artificial death that I consider a good sleep. (My friend Carlo, a borderline narcoleptic, says death wouldn’t be so scary if there were some assurance that it was like sleeping.) I would wake up round noon, unsatisfied, and be in a zombie state the rest of the day. Oddly, I did not feel sleepy during the day, and I seemed to function “normally”, though I felt cheated (I want my sleep). This went on for about a month, and then last week my sleep came back. I’m still trying to figure out what happened.
I am talking about sleep, thinking about the butterfly. God is busy visiting everybody else’s dreams, because sleep doesn’t fall from the evening sky.
Carey, Benedict. “An Active, Purposeful Machine That Comes Out at Night to Play.” The New York Times. 23 October 2007: LZ01.
Gallagher, Michela et al. Handbook of Biological Psychology. Vol. 3. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.
Nagourney, Eric. “Mental Abilities: ‘Sleep on It,’ It Appears, Really Is Good Advice.” The New York Times. 1 May 2007: LZ02.