Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Sleep (the essay that I agonized over)

On Sleep

I love to sleep. Every morning when I wake up, I wish I could close my eyes again and return to that state of peace and restfulness. Some afternoons I can’t keep myself awake, so I take a nap. Even then, it never feels like enough. I am addicted to sleep.

And I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Of course I need sleep; everyone does. But does my perceived need for it go too far? Should I really value it so much as to spend two hours of my afternoon on it, hours that I could have been studying or writing this essay? Is sleeping a waste of my time? When I think about it, it seems like a crime to spend the whole night unconscious. I could accomplish so much more if those hours were available for me to use.

Besides, sleep isn’t always the blessing it seems to be. I have experienced some of my most terrifying moments while sleeping, in the form of nightmares. In one a wolf attacked me; in another, I actually died (although I was somehow resurrected the next day). But how can something that’s supposed to be good for me cause me the fear and anxiety that these dreams did?

Naps also pose a problem. Today I nearly missed dinner because I took one, and I felt disoriented and confused for a long time afterward. Although I had only slept for a few hours, it felt like a whole night had passed, making it seem like it was Thursday instead of Wednesday. Also when I woke up my head felt thick and cloudy, and my movements were slow and awkward. I was almost worse off after the nap than I had been before it.

And then there are mornings. When I get up I feel miserable, maybe like a drug addict in withdrawal. I want to remain asleep, spend all my time sleeping, in fact – because, like drugs, sleep makes me feel good. While I’m sleeping, at least. Then I am blissfully unaware of everything; when I wake up, however, I am rudely thrust back into the real world of responsibilities, deadlines, and problems.

Sleep, then, is an escape. When I’m sleeping, I don’t remember that I have an essay due or that I haven’t done the reading for a class. Is that why I find it so addicting? Because it lets me get away, in a sense, from my life? I have to admit that that’s partly true. Without sleep I would never get a break from the pressure and anxiety I experience every day, and I think that break is necessary to my survival.

Still, I don’t like the feeling that I am a slave to sleep, and sometimes I think that maybe it would be better to avoid it altogether. But that’s impossible, of course. No matter how long I put it off, no matter how late I stay up, if I want to stay alive, sleep is inevitable.

So obviously not sleeping isn’t a choice. Sleeping less, then? It’s not a pleasant prospect. Even when I’m getting eight hours a night I always feel like I need more. I wish I could do it all at once, maybe sleep for a year or two, and then forego it the rest of my life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Maybe, then, I should change how I view sleep. I would never say I love food, except when I’m exceedingly hungry. Food is necessary, so I eat, but there are many other things I would rather be doing. I think sleep, however, is wonderful, and many times it is the thing that I would prefer to be doing. If I were to stop glorifying it, perhaps it would lose its hold on me.

How do I do that, though? Even now I’m getting tired, starting to slow down, and longing for the time when I can go to bed. I can’t function as well because my body needs rest.

It appears I’m stuck, then. An addict can be weaned off drugs, but I can never give up sleep. At least, not in this life. In heaven, the Bible says, we won’t need to sleep anymore. Sometimes I feel a little disappointed when I read that, but ultimately I think it’s a good thing. Being asleep is often used as a metaphor for being blind or oblivious to something, while waking up means coming to a realization. Although it’s not always pleasant, both in the literal and figurative senses, in the end it is better that way. After all, what’s the point of sleeping if you’re never awake to enjoy the benefits? Sleeping is valuable precisely because it allows you to be awake and alert during the day; the only time you can be aware of the good it has done you is when you are not doing it.

So I will continue to sleep, but now when I am awake, instead of longing for the time when I can sleep again, I will be grateful for my past sleep. And when my alarm goes off tomorrow morning, I will remind myself that the very point of sleeping is to wake up.

I welcome comments and suggestions, as my second draft is due next week. :)


  1. Tab,
    I just read your essay and really enjoyed it. I would like to read the final version. It is now about 1 am and I am at work. Reading this made me sleepy so I am going to have to get up and walk around or go into my office and take a nap.

  2. that was very interesting and quite good. i really liked it! :) i feel the same as you, as do a lot of people, i'm sure. ;)

  3. Thanks, I'm glad you both liked it! I thought I would get it back today, but I actually have to wait till Thursday . . .