Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Lying down on the job

It must be in the running for the best job. A 22-year-old student is being paid to test luxury beds, with the comfortable hours of 10am to 6pm.

According to an interview in the Telegraph, student Roisin Madigan will report on what makes a really good sleeping experience, while testing the beds of Simon Horn Ltd.

For anyone who thinks this seems rather indulgent, then I'd say why shouldn't we get as much pleasure as possible from sleep? Sleep is a very good thing, so why can't we allow ourselves to enjoy it. Sleep shouldn't be something hurried and neglected, it should be luxuriated in, savoured like a fine wine or a really pleasurable meal. We should recognise the different types of sleep and differentiate between what makes a good and a bad night.

And so to bed.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Meaning of sleep? What's the point of being awake?

Why do we sleep? It's such a basic question, but there's no agreed answer and debate continues to set out ideas.

An article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience suggests that rather than looking for a single universal evolutionary function for sleep, we should see the dozing animal as part of a wider sweep of nature which includes the dormant states of plants. These phases of resting and activity reflect nature's best efforts to make use of the resources available. So a creature which depends on hunting during the night will shape its sleep patterns to optimise its chances of success.

I've always thought that sleeping and waking are not opposites, but are integral to each other - and so looking for the purpose of sleep is the same as looking for the purpose of being awake. Sleep isn't a lesser state which needs to explain itself. We should consider the possibility that sleep is the default position, a state of dormancy being closer to nature than being awake. There are some simple creatures that spend almost all their lifetime in a state of rest, stirred into brief rushes of activity only when threatened or needing food. For them being awake is an occasional unpleasant aberration, while the majority of their life is the calm rhythm of inactivity.

In the living world, for plants as well as animals, the patterns of day and night, rising and falling, birth and death, winter and summer, are profoundly rooted - and in this pattern must also lie the idea of sleeping and waking, one not possible without the other.

But the search for an explanation for sleep shouldn't beguile us into thinking that being awake is the higher state of being. Being awake is what we prioritise because it's where our culture stores its prizes. It's where we work, promote our individualism, assert our power, it's where economic status resides. Sleep has none of this, it's a mysterious, curious place, nothing to do with money or social status. It operates on a level much closer to nature. It's where we're only a few unconscious breaths away from other living creatures.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Italian Marie Claire

The Sleepyhead book is now resting its head in the soft pillows of the Italian edition of Marie Claire. I'm not sure what I'm meant to be saying about the book in this interview, but it looks very fetching. How do they make stuff look so darned stylish? Here's the link to the article in the "Stare bene" section, which according to the Google-style translator means "Stay healthy".

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Before the head hits the pillow

Adults can only envy the way a child can fall so completely and deeply asleep. It's like an on-off switch, going from being awake into profound sleep. I remember long summer holiday days in my own childhood, a city kid helping out on my grandfather's farm, tired and sunny, falling asleep before my head hit the pillow.

But there are plenty of kids who don't find it easy to fall asleep. My own children get thrown out of their regular pattern during the holidays and stay up too late and get too tired.

So what might help them to fall asleep? Part of the answer, according to research in the cheerfully-titled Archives of Disease in Childhood, is to run around a lot during the day.

Researchers have calculated the relationship between how much exercise children have during the day and the rapidity of falling asleep.

Studying a group of children with an average age of seven, researchers found that for every hour of sedentary activity - whether it was watching television or reading a book - an extra three minutes was added to the time it took children to fall asleep. Increasing the amount of physical exercise during the day meant a corresponding reduction in the amount of time it took to fall asleep.

So the answer is to run around all day for an instant sleep at night.