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Column: Perchance To Dream

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Perchance to sleep
Matthew Thomas
Soapbox 0040, 1999-06-20

I need to reform my sleeping habits.

So my flatmates keep telling me. `You really should get to bed at a decent hour,' they say. They're getting used to me arriving home at four or five in the morning, and waking up around lunchtime -- or flying through their midst as I shave minutes off the record time taken to get from a bed to a lecture.

I sometimes wonder if lack of sleep is responsible for some of the ills of modern society. Humans operate by a circadian rhythm, which dictates that approximately every 24 hours we need to spend a decent period asleep. But the eight hours of sleep we get on average today is less than the nine hours enjoyed by our not-so-distant ancestors, who lived before the invention of the electric light. And that hour of lost sleep surely must make some difference to our general irritability over time.

In addition, in Western society we usually don't have an afternoon nap, such as Winston Churchill and Napoleon Bonaparte (among others) enjoyed, and such as is traditional in Spain. Could this be a contributing factor in phenomena such as road rage and increasing petty crime and depression? I think it might be.

University students, meanwhile, are legendary for their ability to wreak havoc on their sleeping patterns -- pulling `all-nighters' to get essays and assignments finished (sometimes more than one night in a row), and collapsing in bed afterwards. This can't be a good thing, but some students seem to revel in it, just as some revel in drinking large quantities of alcohol.

Maybe if my work suffered, then I'd start sleeping properly. But no -- all the evidence is that sleep deprivation would be bad for my grades, but they have been, bizarrely, improving lately. Or perhaps if I got sick, then I would learn? But my recalcitrant immune system stubbornly refused to give me the flu, or even so much as a sniffle, no matter how harshly I tested it.

So the question remained: how was I going to be cured of my bad habits? The answer, it seems, was through an experience with an extraterrestrial being.

There I was at two o'clock last Tuesday morning, trudging home after spending a few hours at university working on a new design for the Scoop Web site. I turned into the driveway, and had just reached the front door of the flat when I heard a thump thump thump noise behind me. I turned around and saw a very bright light shining straight into my eyes.

`Hey, mate!' said the light. `What are you doing here?'

`Um ... I live here,' was my somewhat confused reply.

`Really?'

`Yes,' I said, gesturing at the front door, which I had now unlocked. It was at this point that I realized that I was engaging in conversation with a light. `Who are you ... what are you?' I asked.

The light turned itself around to shine upon a Cheshire-cat-like face, with a brimmed cap above and a dark blue jersey dimly visible below. `Police, mate', the face said.

`Oh,' I said, half relieved, but half disappointed that this wasn't an extraterrestrial experience after all.

`Got any ID, mate?' said the face, as the light swiveled back to blind me again. I proffered my student ID card. A hand took it, held it up for the light to shine on it, and gave it back to me. Apparently I was who I was supposed to be.

And then came the inevitable question. `So what on earth are you doing up at this hour, mate?'

All right, I give up. I'm going to bed. My friends, my family, and the New Zealand Police want me to reform my sleeping habits. So who am I to argue?


Copyright (C) 1999 Matthew Thomas (mpt@mailandnews.com). ----

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