N is for Noctambalism

| April 1, 2014

I’ve been thinking since our last class about sleep and how it regulates our ability to function normally. Of course, there have been countless studies done to unlock the mysteries of sleep but very little is known about this life-sustaining mammalian need.  I’ve been reading about some bizarre cases of what happens when normal functions of sleep are severely disrupted.

Superman sleep: maximizing sleep for productivity (aka polyphasic sleep) – this is the ultimate in sleep capitalization. Although it allows you to sleep only 30 minutes at a time and supposedly maximizes sleep by forcing your body to quickly enter REM stages, there has been a lot of controversy (and perhaps some deaths) over usurping this final biological function in the name of productivity!

REM disorder: when sleep can’t immobilize your body. Recently brought to our attention by a hilarious example (see Sleepwalk With Me), this disorder is dangerous if untreated and highly disruptive to one’s life.

Fatal Familial Insomnia (the scariest and saddest sleep disorder): when insomnia kills you and there is NOTHING you can do about it!

We’ve seen a lot recently about the commodification of sleep.


But, what about sleep as an aesthetic practice or part of one?

In a book I posted on earlier, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, she assuages her guilt of sleeping during the day, as a result of illness:

“the snails daytime sleeping habits gave me a fresh perspective; I was not the only one resting away the
days. The snail naturally slept by day, even on the sunniest of afternoons. Its companionship

was a comfort to me and buffered my feelings of uselessness”.

It occurred to me that many cultures not only nap during the day but some cultivate such a way of life (Spain and Argentina come to mind easily), almost seeing it as a national treasure. Americans in particular, with their hard-working, Puritan and immigrant roots seem dedicated to relegating sleep as an unfortunate disease one must suffer through.