Sleep is part of the good health trifecta – sensible food, regular exercise, eight solid hours of sleep. With enough willpower, you can talk yourself into the right foods and an appropriate amount of exercise, but the sleep part isn’t that simple, at least not for me.
I do all the right things – dim the lights, cool the room just a tad, make sure I haven’t just watched any Stephen King on TV – but after that, it’s a waiting game. Actual sleeping is out of my control. Even when I am successful, I don’t really know how I got there. I just know that I did.
This is difficult for a dedicated “to-do-er” like me. I can see where I need to be. I am committed to getting there, but sleep is less about persistence and more about letting go. It is, after all, called “falling asleep.” In effect, you have to give yourself over to sleep and then you are taken … where? Unless you have chemically knocked yourself out and end up unknowingly driving yourself to an all-night IHOP, your body stays put, but your mind – where does it go?
The morning light seems to erase many of the specifics, but it would appear that your inner toddler, the one you keep successfully cooped up all day, is driving the bus. While your body is resting, she takes your mind on a whirlwind tour of your subconscious. That REM stuff? Really Eclectic Mess. All day, every day, it would seem, your mind is stashing stuff away in no particular order. The guy who was rocking out to Abba at the stoplight, the new Avengers movie trailer, the conversation you overheard at the DMV – all these things are thrown into your brain willy-nilly. Whatever you’ve been thinking about, or trying not to think about, or shelved away under “don’t ever think about” becomes part of your late night toddler tour and is played out in Technicolor, bound together by just enough realism so that your mind thinks it’s actually happening.
This can’t be the best way for your body to recharge. You’ve had a hard day. You’ve had to fend off difficult people and solve annoying problems. You need a break, not a mishmash of troublesome bits and pieces that make you wake up feeling like you’ve narrowly escaped a lunatic asylum that (and here’s the scariest part) resides in your own head. How is this helpful?
It would be ever so much easier if we could just plug ourselves in overnight like our phones and wake up refreshed at 100 percent, or if we could scroll through all of our mental flotsam and jetsam before bedtime and consciously erase the troublesome bits we’d rather not see on the toddler tour. Or maybe the sleep tour could be turned over to your grown-up side, the one you’ve carefully cultivated, the one that has your best interest in mind.
It would be even better if we didn’t have to sleep at all, if we could just Energizer Bunny our way through life. Imagine all the things we’d get done. Sleepless in Seattle or Topeka or Birmingham? It’s a system that could work … or maybe not. The overnight glut online would be insurmountable, the lines at the all-night Walmart out the door. Coffee would be completely unnecessary. Starbucks would come crashing down.
We need to rest. There’s no getting around it. Tonight, I’ll have a cup of Sleepytime Tea and close my eyes and hand my toddler the keys. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a column idea out of it.