I love sleep. There’s nothing like climbing into a warm bed at the end of a long day and drifting off. I’ve always loved it. Even as a child on Christmas morning I was fairly grumpy about having to get up.
Now that the clocks have gone back our sleep patterns are coming to the fore with chronotype differences aplenty. Circadian rhythms are strong and we each fall into specific categories, usually described with helpful animal analogies. The old birds (larks and owls) have been superseded in modern sleep psychology by new creatures that describe our nocturnal habits: now we are bears, wolves, lions or dolphins.
Bears are the most common apparently, working within solar patterns and having a doze late afternoon, while the lions are up early, getting lots done and then it’s off for an early night. Dolphins account for a smaller group. These incredible creatures sleep hemispherically, one side of their brain remaining awake, and even one eye still open. Their human counterparts haven’t worked out how to do that yet but they are the insomniacs who sleep only a little, always hyper aware.
I know I’m a wolf – get up late, slink around the place being a bit useless until darkness falls and suddenly spring into action. Maybe bite, on occasion, if someone gets too close.
Since chronotype is fairly fixed (as impossible to change as the colour of your eyes) it can be challenging to share time with a different creature – a bear will struggle to understand the dolphin who simply can’t get to sleep. (Stay with me, I know the image is odd, bears swim don’t they?) And the need to remain unconscious for several hours every day is a strange species requirement anyway. Our brains are surely carrying out tasks of immense importance while we sleep: memory encoding, dreaming and everything in between.
In spite of its importance to our wellbeing, sleep is still overlooked in a modern culture that tends to reward busyness and early risers while tutting at those who sleep late and take their time. “Look”, they say, pointing at the bird with its worm, “that’s how to get on in life.” For wolves like me, who are still snoring happily away while the birds (or lions) skip around getting stuff done, it can be frustrating to be dismissed as lazy. We work hard too, it just happens to be dark at the time.