“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
― Ernest Hemingway
I have always enjoyed sleeping. Not going to bed though, as I’m something of a night owl who enjoys the alone time, the peace and quiet experienced only after everyone else is in bed and fast asleep. And it is only then that I find my mind truly awake and active and I’m at my most creative level.
Even as a child I found it impossible to go to sleep at my prescribed bedtime and would lie under my covers, flashlight and book in hand, awake until after hearing my parents going to bed after the 11 pm news. Once I became a teenager, my parents naturally aware of my secretive bedtime behavior, allowed me to stay up with them to watch the news. It was only then could I fall asleep. And, sleep was respected in our home. No matter who was still asleep well into the morning, no matter for how long it’d been, everyone up talked and trod quietly. “They need their sleep.”
And it was the nature of sleep that I found and still find comforting. No matter what I do or what happens to me in my sleep-life, there are no lasting consequences, no recriminations from others, no explanations needed to be made, no obligations to be met; unlike in awake-life, were the vicissitudes of daily life are frought with the need to make decisions and, where wrong, tend to screw things up and make life complicated with unexpected consequences, hard feelings from others, apologies to be made and extra efforts to make things right. Like Papa Hemingway, sometimes – at times all too often – things fall apart when I’m awake.
But what is it about sleep, do we “need” to sleep? That question was probably asked the first morning the first cognizant homonid awoke and asked, “What just happened?” Sleep has been studied ever since and nobody has yet to figure it out. We do know that, biologically, certain hormones and the like are secreted only or mostly at night and that our bodies seem to undergo a repair process to undo the wear-and-tear experienced during the day. But is there more? Perhaps survival, itself? We humans can’t see all that well in the dark, and that’s prime hunting time for predators. Carl Sagan once quipped, “The sleeping style of each organism is exquisitely adapted to the ecology of the animal. It is conceivable that animals who are too stupid to be quiet on their own initiative are, during periods of high risk, immobilized by the implacable arm of sleep.”
And what is dreaming while asleep all about? There are a lot of theories, and most revolve around the idea that our brains need a time-out to sort through the day’s events. Sagan opined, “that dreams are a spillover from the unconscious processing of the day’s experience, from the brain’s decision on how much of the daily events temporarily stored in a kind of buffer to emplace in long-term memory.”
When I read that I wondered if there might be a correlation between the amount of processing needed and the length of sleep time. My investigation revealed that Sagan also noted, “The American psychiatrist Ernest Hartmann of Tufts University has provided anecdotal but reasonably persuasive evidence that people who are engaged in intellectual activities during the day, especially unfamiliar intellectual activities, require more sleep at night, while, by and large, those engaged in mainly repetitive and intellectually unchallenging tasks are able to do with much less sleep.”
That would explain (other than the rest their bodies need for repair and physical development) why children require more sleep than adults (their everyday existance is that of learning, everything in their life is something new that needs to be processed in order to be remembered), why adults need less (much of their life is basically reptitive), and why seniors require even less (been there, done that, just about everything).
(An article in Psychology Today, entitled “Why Night Owls Are More Intelligent Than Morning Larks” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/201005/why-night-owls-are-more-intelligent-morning-larks) shows that, “compared to their less intelligent counterparts”, more intelligent children go to sleep about 45 minutes later but sleep about 30 minutes more. And note: bed time is not a factor of when the child finally falls asleep.)
If you find youself to be a long sleeper as I am, even at 69 years old, one of two things is possible: either we are quite intelligent and are intellectually challenged by what we do during the day, or we sleep long in order to find comfort escaping those things that keep falling apart in our daily lives.
I choose to believe it’s because I’m intelligent, but maybe a little of both?