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Sleep – Salubrious spell of suspended animation

Giving forty winks a nod of approval, as it makes up — no question —the happiest time of our lives

How a good sleep and the sense of wellbeing go hand in glove 

Sleep is our daily tonic – and that doesn’t mean a nightcap!  Alas, all too often, we learn this lesson the hard (knocks) way, in the ‘too little too late’ school of life in the fast lane.  Lack of sleep, due to the two lifestyle isms of work and play, can be deadly.  To toil and/or party hard/binge drink into the wee hours will take a toll on the immune systems of even the young and strong.

There are some who look upon this stint of rest as a sheer waste of precious time.  These are the ones, you can bet, who need Botox to get rid of those bags under the eyes.  Cosmetics can but deal with what one sees; the inside story, though, is a cautionary tale of the many ways a lack of sleep can hurt.

Here’s how slumber helps out health.

As any GP worth their salt would tell you, there’s no better stress buster than a good night’s sleep.  Your BP (that’s blood pressure, bozo, not boiling point) drops, since your nonstop beating heart gets a bit of a break when you lie down.  With your head down to heart level, that organic pump in your chest has less of gravity to deal with, and is glad for it.  So, that takes care of your circulatory system.  Or, as they say now, it’s all good for the bloodlines.

A propos the respiratory works, it’s too all to the good.  We know, or ought to, that, under stress, it helps no end to breathe slow and deep.  Ask any mother who’s been through labour, if you don’t want to take my word for it.

It’s known as pranayama in yoga.  Even if in the dark on that mystic art, we all become yogis, as it were, in our sleep.  Which may be why some guy on Facebook told the world that his religion is sleep and his god the bed!

To come back on track … the deep breaths of deep sleep come off their own steam, and the lungs are used, unwittingly, as meant to be, at full throttle.  With oodles of O2 in the blood, the brain gets its booster shot, and all is hunky dory with the rest of the body.

And that brings us to the digestive system, for which as well it should be a time of rest.  Which is why a light supper is advised, since not too much of those glandular juices will be sloshing around in one’s guts when one lies still for long.

Here’s a neat tip for those who can’t sleep on an ‘empty’ stomach: “After lunch, sit awhile; after dinner, walk a mile.”

A pithy (and poetic) way to say that your tum needs all the help it can get, to break down what you shovel in, just when it’s about to shut down for the day.  This is the time, when ingestion of daytime meals has passed the stomach stage, and is now en route through the intestines.  If one eats lots late, then one’s post meal workshop has to do a double shift, and at two places at once.

It’s also said, and it makes sense, that rich meals (like pizza, say) right before shut-eye can lead to bad dreams.  The bellyache will raise its ugly head.  Nightmares of being chased, or getting stuck, or falling from a great height, are all to do with the stir up in the gut!

Instead, sleep should be like balm to both body and mind.  Unique it is in this two-toned sense; unlike drugs, legal or else, that screw one for the sate (sic!) of the other.


Sleeping around in literary circles  

THE annals of literature are replete with tales of sleep.  To begin with the Bible (no bias – it’s the first book to be printed, that’s all), there is mention of the prophet Elijah, said to be asleep in the bosom of the patriarch Abraham; he will stay that comatose way till the coming of the Antichrist.

Among the old Greek myths is this one about Endymion, whom the moon fell flat for.  So much so, that Earth’s dogged daughter smooched the lad and sent him into a trance like sleep, so that he’d never grow old.

Ah, young love!

While in the milieu, a bit of trivial pursuit, guess who Hypnos (name ring a bell?) is?

Answer: The Greek god of … what else … sleep.

In Camelot legend, both the wielder of Excalibur (King Arthur) and he of the wand (Merlin the magician) are not deemed to be dead, but in a deep sleep.  When they get up, so it goes, Britain will see a Golden Age.

Which does not mean, god forbid, that Rule Britannia will be reborn.

Fairy tales swarm with yarns that spin around sleep.  There’s the sandman, for one, who puts kids to sleep with a spray of his magic grit in their eyes.  Then, of course, the winsome twosome, Snow White and the Sleeping Beauty, both of who fell into epic swoons, only a kiss could yank them out of.

In the Homeric epics, Zeus deceives Agamemnon in a dream, so as to advance Achilles’ cause.  Plus, Odysseus’ wife Penelope had a prophetic dream of an eagle that killed twenty geese.

It presaged her husband’s return to slay all her pesky suitors!

Shakespeare has his share of sleepers.  In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the whole cast, it seems, is put under a spell through the medium of sleep.  My own pet persona is Lady Macbeth; her macabre yet mournful somnambulant scene is a show stopper in my book.

The playwright Anton Chekhov wrote a chilling short story on the theme.  Let Me Sleep tells of a maid, down with insomnia from her babysitting duties, who seeks a grisly, if grimly logical, way out.

Then there are those authors, part of whose ouvre found a muse in opium-induced sleep (and dreams thereof).  Chief among these would be Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, ST Coleridge’s Kublai Khan, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.

Nightmares play a key role in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

After Sigmund Freud’s published his watershed Interpretation of Dreams, he opened the floodgate for sleep-related literary gems like, inter alia, Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, August Strindberg’s A Dream Play, Franz Kafka’s The Trial and James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.

To my mind, the tag of most celebrated sleeper of fiction is by rights Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, that henpecked, work-shy Catskill Mountains dweller, who hit the sack for a score of years!

to be continued

Contributed by John Chiramal

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