Posted by: dougery | March 16, 2011

The Pseudoscience of Sleep

Of the three things you need do in order to remain existent–eating/drinking and breathing being the first two–sleeping seems to me to be the decisive third wheel. Of course some folks might include “working” as a fourth alternative since the revenue it brings in directly contributes to how well one fulfills the whole eating/drinking and sleeping requirements, but money is an another subject altogether that I wish to avoid for the time being.

Unlike breathing which we generally never think about unless it is hampered by a cold and/or a murderer intent on strangulation; and eating/drinking which, let’s be honest, we probably think and talk about far too much, or at least more often than is essential to furthering our existence; sleep usually gets the short shrift. Yes, it’s true, you think about sleep the more you are lacking in it’s soft, warm embrace…


…oh, sorry, I drifted off there a moment, but generally speaking people put little thought into something that occupies roughly a third of our lives.

Not to gender stereotype, but young men spend an infinitely larger amount of time thinking about an entirely different definition of the verb ‘sleep (with)’ in any given lifetime and I imagine this holds true for most women as well.

The nebulous way we think about sleep is most likely due to the nebulous way it effects our life. Unlike breathing, which if we stop doing we’ll be dead in a matter of minutes, or eating, which pays immediate dividends taste-wise–to say nothing of the ‘dividends’ garnered from drinking certain fermented things–and the general satisfaction after a good meal, the beneficial side-effects of sleep are much less immediate or observable at all.

We all know when we are feeling run-down, tired, fatigued, exhausted, etc. There are probably more words for sleepy than there are tweens obsessed with Justin Bieber, but that sheer number is a tip off that a precise science this ain’t. To say nothing of the fact that sleeping or sleep deprivation effects everyone differently. Bill Clinton was rumored to have slept 3 hours a night while president. I’m happy he could pull that off because I sure as shit could not. However, was this lack of sleep a contributor to the decline of his poor, overtaxed heart? Or was that just the McRib sandwiches?

And our attitudes toward sleep (or at least mine) change significantly over time.

When I was little sleeping was awful. I hated “going to bed.” I wanted to stay up and watch terrible 80’s movies and sitcoms with my parents. Later, I wanted to stay up and play terrible(y awesome) Nintendo games or, god forbid, read. Summer was a particularly cruel season, one where a 9:00pm bedtime often meant turning in well before the sun set. To this day I still feel odd putting pajamas on while it is light out.

When one is young it doesn’t help that the darkened corners of a bedroom are festooned with soulless monsters bent on your inevitable digestion in their even darker entrails, but then again I question the gender lines here and wonder if girls have this same problem or suffer from it to such an extent as young boys. Either way this phenomenon certainly contributes to an intensely emotional negative connection with sleep.

For me, all of this hatred toward sleep promptly ended right around puberty and middle-school where sleep became, like, the greatest stuff on earth. I could not sleep enough. Seriously, on a weekend I would sleep in until well into the afternoon, and that after going to bed sometimes before midnight.

And then there is that magical moment where the sleep verb morphs into something exotic, frightening and painfully foreign (at least for me as a young adult). Suddenly sleep equals sex. In college, nobody ever just ended up hanging out with a member of the opposite sex and passing the night in their room, just, like, as friends. Or if you or they (inexplicably) did it didn’t matter because the nuclear powered gossip engine only knows you “slept with” someone and that cannot be interpreted as anything but “sexed the pants off.”

It sounds creepy and gross (but then again teenage guys are creepy and gross) but even being in the presence of a bed of someone of the opposite sex was a powerful mixture of allure and terror. The mind reels.

“This is the place where ‘x’ sleeps.” “If she were to end up having sex with someone there is a roughly 50% chance it would happen right there.” “Why on earth does ‘x’ keep her comforter and pillow strewn sex machine right out there in the open like that, I mean really!?”

That might be a slight exaggeration but you catch my drift. I hope others are more mature than that when they were that age, and I’m sorry, I really am. And it’s not like those thoughts don’t pass eventually. Even the young male mind has some capacity to divorce the imminent threat/hope of sex sometimes.

Like when your major of choice sharpens and steals all sleep from you always. All-nighters and sleep deprived months were the order of my early twenties. I have walked home to go to bed well after the sun has risen far too many times in my life, and the number of all-nighters remains well into the double digits. Probably Clinton-esque years off my life, and all for a piece of paper that says they approved of my edumacating at their prestigious university.

The issue of dreams complicates sleeping. Dreams are confounding, brilliant, exasperating and capricious and entirely your own–of how many things in your life can you say that?

Anyhow, this post is threatening to digress even in its digressions which probably means I need to call it a night. Get some sleep. Whatever good that will do me. I mean, its hard to say.

Reading: The Explosion of the Radiator Hose by Jean Rolin



  1. 1. i heart the audrey picture.
    2. i love the characterization of a bed as a “pillow strewn sex machine.”
    3. seriously, why do guys sleep so much? is it that exhausting to be male?

    • a) how can one not love Aubrey?
      b) well it kind of is.
      c) If I had to guess I’d say I sleep slightly more than the average male and that men sleep more than women. Which doesn’t mean I even get 8 hours a night, just that I’m not one to partyallthetime partyallthetime. I have no idea if/why men sleep more than women, maybe it’s a chemical/hormonal thing.

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