The Mystery of Sleep

Sleeping man with infant

Falling asleep is one of my great joys. It starts with the readiness for rest, usually lying down and closing my eyes to permit myself to slip from this reality and into another. As I do, I soon begin to silently move from the awareness of my surroundings. Without any effort on my part, I find that I am drifting into another world.

In this in-between state, I am gradually separated from my immediate thoughts and concerns. As I separate from usual reality, I enter into a different kind of world.

I embrace the arrival of the misty dream world of sleep. I’m in a peaceful state and move effortlessly into the unknown world of sleep. The change from the conscious and awake to sleep and the unconscious is calm, gradual and gentle where one gives way as the other laps in.

I can’t write about what happens next in a linear or conscious way since I am not there, at least not there as I am when awake. Somehow I have transitioned from one sort of reality to another kind of reality. But I also know that some features of this different world are truly amazing.

Science tells us that our bodies and minds are active during sleep. We know that our body repairs itself and our brains are busy organising such areas as memory. Toxins are removed, tissues repaired, memories made sense of and that some memories are transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. Our breathing and heart rates slow. Our temperature changes through the night. The depth of our sleep can be measured by brain activity.

Time does not pass in the same way as it does when we are fully conscious. Take, for example, when we wake – we are not aware of the minutes or hours that we have slept. Sometimes, I wake sufficiently in the night and take a glance at my bedside clock. If I wake again later, I readily believe that I have dozed only for a minute or two, only to discover that two hours have passed since my last peep. My ability to gauge time is unreliable and does not work well when I am asleep. I can measure time internally when awake but not when I am asleep or if I hover between the two states.

As I begin to wake, it is as if I’m rising out of a submerged state. In the depths of sleep, my conscious world is suspended. Even time passes without measure and any sense of watching the clock of reality is lost. Time no has power over me as it does in my conscious day. But as I wake and draw closer to my wakeful state, my internal periscope is raised, and I begin to check in with my self and my surroundings. It’s a new day. I want to know where I am, the time, light through the curtains or a glance at the clock all to confirm my safe arrival to a new day. But how did I get there?

A good night’s sleep successfully punctuates my existence in the physical world. We accept this world as our ordinary human reality. But at times, I wonder whether this is quite the right perspective. If sleep is a temporary state punctuating my physical world, could it just as rightly be said that my physical experience is brief punctuation of my otherness?

On its own, this thought is intriguing. If sleep is part of a larger other reality, then it is possible to see sleep as the gateway to my otherness, an existence in another state. It is at this point we are aware that something quite beautiful has happened. If our sleep has progressed without interruption, we will wake refreshed and at peace in readiness for a new day. In this sense, our visit to our other reality punctuates the rhythms of daily life and is essential to our good health.

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