'I don't sleep. I hate those little slices of death.'--from the 1959 film Journey to the Center of the Earth
I first heard the above quotation expressed this way: 'Sleep--how I loathe those little slices of death.' When written like that, it sounds older and is often incorrectly attributed to Poe or Longfellow, but neither of them wrote it.
No, the first documented mention of antipathy toward little slices of death was in that sci-fi flick and wasn't even in Jules Verne's original. Way to go, obscure 1950s screenwriting team. You guys get me. I can relate because I'm not much of a sleeper. Though I'm not the worst insomniac in the world, sleeping has always seemed like a huge waste of time.
'We spend a third of our lives sleeping.'
That's a line you hear all the time. It's probably true of most people. But I rarely sleep a full eight hours, so I probably spend closer to one fourth of my life asleep. I figure if I die younger from lack of it, I could still come out ahead of the sleep-mongers in terms of the amount of time I will have spent alive and awake (albeit not necessarily alert).
Think about it. If you're asleep, you might as well be dead, so why spread that death out over your whole life when you can just pile it all up at the end?
My point? Sleep is overrated. You lose consciousness for huge chunks of time; you look goofy and have limited control of yourself; dreams are freaky; people sometimes do dangerous things while they're asleep, like cook, drive or spend eight years running a nation. Down with sleep!
Don't get me wrong. I like the feeling of being well-rested. I know it does a body good, and I regularly give it a go, but my heart's just not in it.
A recent study by the U.K. Sleep Council, a 'sleep advice organization,' made news in the U.S. when a poll of 1,000 teenagers between 12 and 16 years old concluded that many do not get the recommended amount of sleep on an average night, in part due to falling asleep with TVs, music or video games on. The Sleep Council considers this a crisis symptomatic of our cyborg era--they call it 'junk sleep'--but any of these activities kids are doing sounds better than sleep to me.
One of my earliest memories is of lying awake late at night in the 1970s listening to John 'Records' Landecker spinning Stevie Wonder 45s on WLS Chicago while I gazed at a glowing orange tiger-in-a-circus-wagon AM radio. Then came the years my mother would find me downstairs in front of the TV watching old movies at 3 a.m. And later, as a teenager, I'd wander the streets of San Diego with my rock 'n' roll zombie vampire friends, looking for somewhere other than Denny's not to sleep in.
I still do most of my writing at night. And you know that 'Fourth Meal' thing? I believe in that.
If you're also a night owl/willing insomniac, you know what I'm talking about. It's not that we'd rather sleep during the day--we'd rather not have to at all.
But the Sleep Council study has got me worrying--what good are all my efforts during the last 15 years to be healthier--to quit smoking and eating meat, to drink less booze and coffee, to exercise and laugh more--if the only sleep I'm getting is 'junk'?
The night before last: I lie awake all night thinking about how I need to get more sleep. It might be a good idea to change my nature, to adapt to the cycles that normal people observe, like the tides. It won't do me any good to be awake if I'm sick.
The first step I take is to turn off the radio. But I soon discover that for years I've been a willing victim of what I have named 'indoor light pollution' (ILP). I'm referring to those little indicator lights they put in everything now. When I was a kid, the TV would be off when it was off, but the 'on' switch on my LCD TV is a little circle of blue light that cuts through the dark, enticing me to turn it on and watch another episode of Hell Date on BET On Demand.
Instead of counting sheep, I count ILP lights: one on the TV, four on the modem, three on the wi-fi router, five on the cable box, seven on the DVD player, one on the Mac power cord, five on the clock radio and one on the power strip--27 perennial nightlights peering at me from the darkness like nocturnal eyes around a cartoon campsite. And that's not even counting the individual LEDs that comprise the individual numbers. Or the lights from the O.B. pier that brighten the bedroom blinds or the fluorescent lights from the parking lot shining through the kitchen window.
So I decide to try to boost the melatonin by wrapping a black T-shirt over my eyes for a full six hours. I wake up in the middle of the night, as usual, and for a second feel relieved that I can't see what time it is. But then I get curious: Has the added darkness affected my middle-of-the-night wake-up time?
I take off the blinders and check the clock radio. It's 3 a.m. As usual. It means that the KGO signal out of San Francisco is probably coming in clear and I can listen to the crazy all-night liberal talk-show host Ray Taliaferro. That guy must be 100 and he never sleeps. Why should I?
But I can't turn on the radio because it's not just about me: Girlfriend T. is sleeping soundly and somehow doesn't look all that goofy doing it.
Guess I'll go in the other room and finish this column.