Friday 11 October 2002

I sleep, but my heart waketh

Strange… I was going to title this post To sleep, perchance to dream (Shakespeare) and I find that Burningbird got there before me. Lucky I chose a Biblical reference instead. Seems like Bb needs to sleep:

All I’ve wanted to do for the past few weeks is sleep. As soon as the sun goes down, I’m ready for bed. I’m ready for bed now, and it’s only 7:45pm.

Shannon Campbell slept (just the right amount too):

Woke up feeling rested after a solid six hours of sleep. (Anyone else ever hear that theory that you should sleep in blocks three hours? Something having to do with circadian rhythms, or some other nonsense that I failed in biology. [I once got a 13 on an AP Biology test. It was graded on a curve. Of 13.] Supposedly, if you can’t get nine hours, you should only sleep six. And if you can’t get six, you should only sleep three.)

I believe Shannon is out by a factor of two. You should sleep in 90 minute blocks. I know it’s true for me and I’ve tested the theory over the years whenever the topic of sleep comes up in conversation by asking people what time they normally wake up after going to sleep without setting an alarm. It’s always a multiple of 90 minutes (plus or minus 5 minutes): 6hrs, 7.5hrs, 9hrs, 10.5hrs, 12hrs.

If an alarm wakes you in the middle of a 90 minute block, you feel like shit. You’d have been far better off waking up at the end of the previous block—even though you’d have had “less sleep.”

Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D. sums up the research:

Studies show that the length of sleep is not what causes us to be refreshed upon waking. The key factor is the number of complete sleep cycles we enjoy. Each sleep cycle contains five distinct phases, which exhibit different brain-wave patterns. For our purposes, it suffices to say that one sleep cycle lasts an average of 90 minutes: 65 minutes of normal, or non-REM (rapid eye movement), sleep; 20 minutes of REM sleep (in which we dream); and a final 5 minutes of non-REM sleep. The REM sleep phases are shorter during earlier cycles (less that 20 minutes) and longer during later ones (more than 20 minutes).

If we were to sleep completely naturally, with no alarm clocks or other sleep disturbances, we would wake up, on the average, after a multiple of 90 minutes—for example, after 4 1/2 hours, 6 hours, 7 1/2 hours, or 9 hours, but not after 7 or 8 hours, which are not multiples of 90 minutes. In the period between cycles we are not actually sleeping: it is a sort of twilight zone from which, if we are not disturbed (by light, cold, a full bladder, noise), we move into another 90-minute cycle. A person who sleeps only four cycles (6 hours) will feel more rested than someone who has slept for 8 to 10 hours but who has not been allowed to complete any one cycle because of being awakened before it was completed….

In other words, the 90 minute sleep cycle is a scientific and medical fact.

For some reason I’m obsessed about proving this to everyone with whom I talk about sleep. It might be that I really love sleeping. Or, more particularly, dreaming. It’s almost as though I live a parallel life in my dreams. Themes recur, I visit the same locations over and again, I dream in Japanese, I meet up with dead friends, I sort out all kinds of problems…

Tonight in the Chinese restaurant, I asked Phoebe, one of the waitresses, how her art school studies were progressing.

“Only four weeks to go before I finish,” she told me, “but I think I’ll go on to do an honors year. The only problem is I have to specialize and I can’t decide whether to choose painting or photography.”

I’ve always thought it was a miracle that her (Chinese) parents allowed her to go to art school in the first place. There are two other waitresses and—as one might expect—one’s studying accounting and the other business administration.

I told Phoebe that every night from now on, when she turns off the light and rests her head on the pillow, she should ask herself one of two questions:

  • “Which should I choose, photography or painting?” or
  • “Which should I choose, painting or photography?”

(Best not to privilege one over the other.) Her unconscious already knows which path she should follow, it’s simply a matter of allowing her heart to awaken.

When Phoebe came back later with a pot of tea, she said: “I like your idea. I’m going to give it a try.” I thought about mentioning the 90 minute sleep cycle but decided to leave it go—she’s under enough pressure already.

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This is why I'm such a crappy weblogger; I never do the research. Thanks, J.

Posted by Shannon on 12 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Phoebe...I know you don't know...but if you did know...which would it be...painting or photography..."

Posted by victor echo zulu on 12 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour