Humour: Bedtime stories
Chances are you’re reading this while sipping on some kind of sweet, caffeinated brew, occupied by stressful Sunday morning thoughts concerning what kind of eggs you truly want to have, which web series you will binge on later in the day and how you never should have committed to watching the cricket match in a group. That’s if you’ve had a reasonably good night of sleep. If not, your bleary mind might just be awake enough to plan an extended afternoon nap – a plan you know is doomed to fail, going by your vast capacity for wakefulness. “I really must give up caffeine,” you tell yourself as you walk back to the kitchen to fix another unforgiving cup.
The sleep hierarchy
I belong firmly to the other end of the sleep spectrum. Night-time sleep comes easy, and afternoon naps – the otherwise stingy work-from-home life’s biggest perk – are frequently achieved. There is no activity exciting enough, no entertainment compelling enough, no desire important enough to keep me from the corner of my rickety bed at the appointed hour. And so when I hear stories of insomnia and its many related horrors, I whisper a little thanks to the gods of randomness, pull the covers over my nervous ears and fall promptly off to sleep. Oblivion has its uses that the perennially awake can only daydream of.
But it’s not just about the asleep and the awake. We’ve constructed strict hierarchies based on who sleeps when (if you leave aside with whom). The moral high ground of the early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise puritan always makes me snigger. As if waking up with the sun confers a special honour that the 7 and 8 o’clockers will never know. Then there are those who boast about their nocturnal ways – as though they’re part of some secret society that the rest of us aren’t cool enough to qualify for. “I can only work when everyone else is asleep,” they say with a superior smirk. Humans will find a way to gloat about anything.
Tyranny of the clock
Celeb sleep stories have always fascinated us. Whether it’s Napolean or Einstein napping several times a day, Shah Rukh Khan getting by with just a few hours or stars who need pills to get the job done, we love to know how the rich and famous conduct this most routine of affairs. Irregular sleep patterns confer some kind of celeb status on mere mortals, too.“I don’t need much sleep,” the party braggart will say, stroking his hipster beard. “In fact, humans don’t need too much sleep,” he carries on, reaching for a canapé. It’s always a great cue to leave a gathering saying you need to set your alarm clock for 5 o’clock. Five o’clock, in my experience, is the magic hour that earns you all sorts of privileges, from early exits to admiring glances.
In romantic relationships, the sleep alignment question is an important one. (Second only to the temperature compatibility one.) I have known couples to spend their days living in entirely different time zones. Holidays, in particular, become a sequential affair, with one partner’s sleep-breakfast-sightseeing-relaxation cycle being followed closely by the other’s. This is why group holidays make so much sense; the tyranny of the clock replaced by safety in numbers.
A literary solution
But not all who snore are at rest. If you, like me, are beset by continuous, vivid dreams – and often nightmares – eight hours of sleep are not always enough to feel rested. I can feel those who struggle to even clock five hours look at me judgmentally. But hear me out. From coiling serpents to collapsing edifices, my sorry tribe is what Freud’s fantasies were made of. Wouldn’t you much rather have your peaceful five hours instead? Sleep maths is complex stuff.
In our hyperactive times, where unwinding is becoming more and more difficult, the sleep industry is having a dream run. From noise-cancelling earplugs to soothing balms, and from plinkety-plunkety music to memory foam mattresses, sleep is serious business. For nights when sleep eludes me, despite my considerable skills in the area, I have a sure-shot solution: a rotating stock of soporific bedtime books. These days, I’m shuttling between a dry anthropological tome and a painfully detailed Scandinavian novel. Never fails.
From HT Brunch, June 23, 2019
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