It’s an astonishing thing to me at least that we human beings, who prize our consciousness, spend a third of our lives blithely unconscious. That jumped up little homunculus who sits on the tiger’s neck giving orders left and right simply . . . goes away at night, only to reappear as if by magic in the morning without so much as a “Didja miss me?” and as full of itself as ever.
There’s a lot that’s fascinating, if not astonishing, about sleep. We all do it (“birds do it, bees do it…” No, no, they really do.) every single day and yet I think it’s fair to say that science lacks a full and clear understanding of all the hows and whys of slumber. In this it joins other fundamental human behaviours such as music, laughing, crying and dreaming that we know intimately but don’t quite understand.
Unconsciousness coupled with scientific puzzlement mean there’s not a whole lot to say about sleep. We don’t in fact talk about it — except, almost universally, to inquire of our intimates whether they slept well. A “yes, thanks” and the conversation is over. It’s the absence of sleep that gets us talking, and by that I mean complaining. Insomnia, restlessness, broken sleep, interrupted sleep — ay, there’s the rub. In case you lack someone close to whom you can report your discontent, you might go to this UK site that asks How Did You Sleep Last Night? and then offers you a number of tips as to how you might improve things.
The problem of getting to sleep has spawned uncounted remedies over the millennia. When you’re young, the nicest of these, perhaps, is the lullaby. But even those old enough to read this can still benefit from those soothing melodies and comforting (usually maternal) voices, so I’ll offer up here a site that presents you with dozens of lullabies from around the world. Each one is accompanied by delightful animation, but I’d suggest that closing your eyes is the best way to listen to these, because only fish sleep with their eyes open and you don’t want to sleep with the fishes. (For those too “adult” or too sturdy to resort to lullabies, may I recommend the Overture to Swann’s Way by Proust. As you work your way through his description of falling asleep, you may find that yo . . . . )
Wakey wakey! Which, of course, is the problem on the other side of sleep. Here I can do no better than to recommend an alarm clock that first intrudes with gentle bird song and then with the delightful voice of Stephen Fry as Jeeves, your own personal valet. The clock comes with dozens of Jeevian wakings, a full set for women and a full set for men. This object is now for sale by Hammacher Schlemmer, that upscale tchotchke catalog store.
Here’s Fry doing some “Good morning madam”s first, followed by a few “Good morning sir”s.