The Land of Nod

Like most people I like to sleep and I think the longest I have gone without resting was when I was 19 and played in a marathon softball game that lasted about 26 hours and after it was over I couldn’t decide if I wanted to take a shower, eat or sleep so I fell asleep in a chair for the next 10 hours and woke up very hungry and very filthy.

I think sleep trumps any other bodily function, including eating or procreating. At least that is the way it is for me because there is nothing like that feeling of finally collapsing on a fluffy pillow and closing my eyes while waiting to be transported into that utterly different state of existence.

These days, I am no longer 19 years old and can’t remember if that was ever a reality so I get a steady 10 hours of sleep a night but it wasn’t always that way. When I was in my 30s I regularly stayed up until 4 a.m. or even later, because that was when the group of us finished our news stories and we closed the Dublin Pub with last call and we still wanted to party so we’d end up at George’s apartment and drink more beer. So I might not hit the sack until 5 or 5:30 a.m., sleep until noon or so and then go to work and then repeat the same incredibly unhealthy routine night after night after night. I would be dead if I tried that now. I’m amazed it didn’t kill me back then.

My sleep is typically interrupted two or three times every night when my swollen prostate tells my bladder that it’s time. At least when I’ve taken care of the nightly business, I can fall asleep pretty quickly although sometimes I find myself waking up cold and have to stumble to the closet to find my favorite sweatshirt. And then there are the nightmares which show up two or three times a week and are sometimes scary, like last night when a giant spider leapt at me from behind a bush. I have learned to tell myself that it’s only a dream and that usually works although sometimes I wake up very disoriented.

I’ve heard of people who need only four hours of sleep a night but I don’t believe that anyone can function very well on so few hours. Those are the people who never seem quite right and who might even be quite different if they had enough of the time cutting logs. They are often mothers who have young children and they have to be up at all hours for feeding or comforting an infant who is having an uncontrolled almost sadistic crying jag and if there was a way to just disappear you would. But you can’t and I’ll raise a glass to all those exhausted mothers who somehow don’t just vaporize, at least most don’t. I thank God that I don’t have breasts, that’s all I can say.

Sometimes I can sleep through almost anything, including loud trucks and thunder but other times, the slightest sound, like a dripping faucet or a cat’s almost imperceptible meeows keeps me awake and in terror in that nether world between sleep and awakening. In college, there were people in the dorm room above mine and each night there was this strange sound, like they were rolling metal balls across the room and each night I fantasized about doing something very, very bad to them. The sound of turning a page in a book can sound like massive explosions just like snoring is a sound like no other, particularly because just when it seems to stop, it starts again in true Marquis de Sade fashion and you want to push your partner out of the window.

I wonder about long distance truckers and how they keep awake for so many hours. Particularly at night, I am easily hypnotized by the headlights of oncoming vehicles and the droning of the engine. I try opening the window and singing loudly but I just get cold and my throat hurts and I’m still dragging. Fortunately, I’ve never been in an accident although there have been many times when I’ve been shaken out of near slumber by the sounds of the tires crossing the rumble strip. I don’t drive a truck for a living so that’s not an issue.

There are a lot of occupations where falling asleep would be a calamity, like an astronaut who conks out while he’s supposed to be piloting the space ship through the cosmos. Same for the pilot of a 747 and I would not like to hear snoring over the intercom from the cockpit. A surgeon has to stay up because he might just replace the wrong knee if was dead on his feet and that is exactly what I understand often happens with residents and interns who are up more than 24 hours straight. Same with a cop who is chasing a murderer and calls out, “stop or I’ll sleep.”

I’ve never had a date fall asleep on me although I have seen many yawns, a truly disappointing sign and one that points to a very brief relationship. There’s also such a thing as dozing off not out of fatigue but because the activity is so deadly boring and that could mean a rabbi offering a sermon to a room filled with snoring Jews.

Athletes also have to be on top of their game because their reflexes have to be razor sharp and that is why it is all the more fantastic to realize the Mickey Mantle was often nursing a powerful hangover after a night of boozing when he came to the plate and belted one over the centerfield wall.

Sleeping is such a mystery, living in that unconscious plane but still functioning on a completely different level and every human does it and most animals, including dogs who sleep more than cats, despite the common belief to the contrary. But I don’t blame cats and dogs for sleeping a lot because what is there to do, other than to eat, take dumps and run around outside for brief but wonderful moments. As for people, it would be such a waste if people slept just because there was nothing else to do although I do understand that depression can make it very hard to face the coming day.

I understand that elephants and giraffes and horses sleep standing up because if they lie down for too long, they can’t breathe. I have known people who could sleep while standing up but I was never able to do that. Giraffes can weigh up to 3,000 pounds and they must burn off a lot of calories just walking around and yet they need only 30 minutes of sleep every day, which means that giraffes have to be among the most tired animals on the globe.

Elephants are also not big on sleep and are known to nod out for just two hours a day and I wonder if that’s because they have such a zest for life that they don’t want to miss much of it.

And some people walk in their sleep and you’re not supposed to wake them up or they’ll die and others have sex while they sleep and that is something I could not imagine happening as I often cannot imagine it happening even when I am awake, just kidding.

I wonder if death is just never waking up and being on that different planet of existence forever after.




Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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