Midsummer Dreams

Is it just me? Books tend to frequent my dreams as well as real life.

Lately I’ve become a bit obsessed with non-fiction. History, psychology, anthropology – you name it. These tend to be massive books too (although on e-readers it’s hard to tell until you’ve spent literally months reading it and the chapter mark still chirpily says 33%). 

But if you get the book edition, its heft makes you feel both studious and knowledgeable (placing your glasses slightly down your nose helps, as does twiddling a pencil). It also looks amazing on the shelf. Let’s be honest it’s the aim to impress that finds such editions gracing our shelves.

“This? Oh yes, the latest Yuval Noah Harari. I find his views rather postmodern to be honest.”

“Where are your thrillers and romance novels?”, asks a friend, scanning the room.

“Get out.”

And so on. Funny how many fantastic non-fiction books I’ve read and now I can’t remember a thing. Stories stay a bit longer I suppose. 

One book that still comes to mind though is Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep.’ It’s always been a source of intrigue for me, this odd species requirement to remain unconscious for hours every day. And this book is both fascinating and frightening. 

And then the fish said I was now the queen and. . .

Matthew Walker is professor of psychology in the university of California and conducts frequent sleep experiments. In the book he explains that REM sleep, and the dreams it brings, quite simply keeps us alive. Without good sleep, he argues, we get sick, grow old too quickly and cannot function. I heartily recommend his chapter on dreams – why they happen, what they’re for and those incredible neurological activities as neurons fire and get up to all sorts of things while we’re unconscious. 

And if a grizzly bear runs alongside your car and tries to open the door before politely asking if he can get in? Well, maybe Freud can help me with that one. 

Get an early night, reduce the glare from your screens, avoid caffeine later in the day – it’s not rocket science, it’s sleep science. And I’m learning.

Perchance to Dream

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.

Whatever your type, or life circumstances, seek sleep – your brain will thank you.