Nighty Night

Unless you’re a jellyfish, a bullfrog or a sea urchin, most sentient beings need to sleep or they die and yet we humans often find it an almost impossible dream, as critical as it is sometimes elusive, more often for some than others.

Do chipmunks, deer, snakes, ants, eagles find it hard to sleep sometimes, do they also toss and turn, try sleeping on their side, then their back and their other side and back again, pulling the blanket over their feet, twisting up in the covers, sweating profusely, do they cry out in sleep, fell like they’ll go mad, perseverate over work or whether their son will get the COVID-19 vaccine or if the snow on the roof will cause a cave-in just when you fall off into the land of nod.

Do newborns sleep? That depends on who you ask, if you ask a newborn, you’ll get one answer, if you ask the parent whose eyes are red, whose bags and lines grow deeper and prays for some rest, you’ll get a totally different, exasperated and defeated answer.

Trees relax their branches at night, which might be a sign of snoozing but do they dream about insane loggers, wild people with chain saws or cataclysmic fires or extended dry spells when the rain seems never to fall. Or do trees just go with the flow, hang loose and wait for the fall for an extended siesta? And does the mighty maple stay up at nights fretting over where his tiny sapling will end up? And what would an oak read in an effort to fall off to the land of Nod in hopes of finding 40 winks or more, would they pick up Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World.” Would the squirrel whose eyes are red from sleep deprivation grab a copy of “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin” by Beatrix Potter?

I think that we humans are the only ones that find it hard at times to complete that most basic of animal functions. We lie down, hungry to enter that world between life and death, our hands clasped over our chests, our mouths open and looking as if death has arrived. I am fascinated with sleep as it is a journey into a total different dimension, a dimension where time is distorted or even non-existent, where dead relatives pop up with regularity, old girlfriends and ex-wives arrive uninvited, pets run off never to be found and strange shadowy creatures fade in and out, sometimes with deadly plans and sometimes for no apparent reason or effect.

During sleep, there is nobody, nothing else in your world, you are totally free from any corporeal controls while you fumble through haphazardly with no one to judge you and no one to offer you advice or a road map for your other-worldly slumber. And you can’t predict where you might be traveling during the next visit from the Sandman. I have flown like Superman and climbed great mountains, walked through forbidden, dangerous neighborhoods, gotten hopelessly lost in a place that is utterly unknown to me while I careen out of control on a motorcycle whose brakes have once again failed and I have watched as tsunami-sized waves have threatened to overwhelm me even though they never do.

And like you, I have thought the deepest profundity in my dreams only to awaken and realize the same thoughts were trite or just not even worth remembering. And that too is a common danger, engaging in a profound, complicated, enjoyable and challenging dream only to wake up and within the blink of a waking eye, forget anything about the dream and cursing because you wanted to tell the world about it.

One day we will be able to film and preserve our dreams but that could lead to some very thorny problems if the wrong people get hold of your dream films, as Dylan said, “If my thought dreams could be seen they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” Which reminds me of another wonderful aspect of dreams, that you can be the second coming of Attila the Hun, Jack the Ripper and Mephistopheles and the devil himself and no one will ever know and no one will ever be hurt, in the waking world, that is and you can find yourself languishing with oceans of naked, beautiful women, all at your beck and call, until you awaken to reality.

Some people say they don’t need much sleep, I’ve heard them brag that four hours is all they need. That is, except when they nod out in their proverbial soup or find they have inexplicably worse physical symptoms. It is said that most need seven to eight hours of quality sleep but quality is the operative word. I can be in bed for eight hours, but sleep is interrupted by the need to visit the bathroom, something that increases with age or the sound of a cat scratching at the door. Noise that is insignificant during waking hours becomes intolerable when trying to enter that sacred place of torpidity and it may be a clock ticking or a drop dripping or a snore that sounds like a gaping roar. And then there is the evil alarm which signals an end to the brief repose and detour from the troubles of waking life. But by waking you eliminate the possibility of never waking again, at least for a while. If I don’t get at least six hours of sleep I will be a zombie, a member of the walking dead, in a condition that fortunately can be fixed with one, good night’s sleep.

Some people sleep with the windows closed, some with them open; some sleep in the nude, some have to wear pajamas with feet; some have to snuggle up with their dog; some have to spoon with their mates; some use a worry doll; some like futons, some like hammocks; some can’t snuggle down before 11 at night, some hit the hey by 8.

Whatever it takes, pleasant dreams, sweet dreams, don’t let the bedbugs bite, nighty night, go to bed, you sleepy head, don’t make me get the tickle monster, sleep tight, sleep snug as a bug in a rug, time to ride the rainbow to dreamland and goodnight, my little prince/princess, Naten e mire, Laku noc, Bona nit, Dobrou noc, Godnat, Goede nacht, Bonne nuit, Boas noites, Gute Nacht, Buona notte, Boa noite, Salam and habeen wanaagsan.

And by the way, jellyfish don’t sleep because they don’t have brains, which are required to get any sleep at all. I guess the scarecrow never sleeps either.

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer