I dream of dreaming

Anselme Servain/Flickr

Anselme Servain/Flickr

According to sleep scientists, the record for the longest period without napping is 18 days, 21 hours, and 40 minutes, accomplished during a rocking chair marathon.

They offer no explanation as to why anyone would take part in a rocking chair marathon, or the level of athletic training and prowess involved. The victorious record holder reported hallucinations, paranoia, blurred vision, slurred speech and concentration lapses.

Big deal. I feel all of those symptoms after a few measly nights. ‘‘ They haven’t been sleepless nights as such, not as I’d imagined them. I’m sleeping – or at least I think I am – but the veneer of my dreams is punctured by the burps, gurgles and wails of our infant son. I sit up sweating, fearing the worst, that I have been burping and gurgling again, only to remember I’m a father, and the noises are coming from the wean.

My wife, on most occasions, is on the rocking chair already and tells me to go back to sleep. But I want to stay awake to, to ... Ah, sweet dreams, nuzzling into the sleep teats on a cow’s rugged underside, then awake again. What? Where?

“Don’t worry,” says my wife. “Go back to sleep.” Ah, glorious sleep, a sleepy waterfall, me snoring peacefully underneath. Big Zs like boomerangs. A deep slumber, a ... “You’ve slept in,” says my wife. “You need to get up.” I’m awake. I am. I’m Paul. What’s the problem? I’d kill for another five minutes.

The Surrealists, in the 1930s, had a novel approach to sleeping. It involved replacing the standard eight-hour block with 15-minute snoozes throughout the day and night.

Picasso apparently swore by it. Salvador Dali, another great proponent of the scheme, suggested settling on an uncomfortable chair, a big key in one hand, a heavy book in the other. He claimed the sliver of sleep between eyes closing and opening again was completely invigorating.

I don’t believe him but sympathise with the barmy sentiment. While searching for a dropped pen at work this morning, I took a micro-second power-nap under the desk, brief enough that no-one noticed, and felt all the better for it.

I’ve taken to tying my shoe laces at any opportunity, popping off to the bog for forty winks, sleeping on the laps of friendly strangers on the bus. I’m already on the lookout for those comedy glasses with painted-on eyes – the perfect ruse until saliva starts spilling from your mouth and your head comes crashing off the table.

British Ministry of Defence researchers have supposedly been able to reset soldiers’ body clocks so they can go without sleep for up to 36 hours, employing a light system first used on US pilots during the bombing of Kosovo.

It’s maybe better for the Kosovans, and world peace in general, that they didn’t use rookie mums and dads. We see your 36 puny hours and spit on them. We see your bombs and evil intentions and ... Shhhh. That’s it. Hush now. Shhhh ...


First published in The Sunday Herald, 2009.