I had an interesting and busy day yesterday. I wrote some, I painted some, I read some, I watched a lot of cricket. My glorious wife baked some of the finest bread it is possible to eat, and we generally had good food the whole day through. I thoroughly enjoyed all those activities — but the best thing of all was the nap I took in the afternoon.
My better half likes to snooze on the couch, life going on around her. And I somehow manage to snooze on the bus most mornings and evenings. But a real nap is a serious business for me. It is a take-off-all-your-clothes-get-into-bed-and-under-the-covers-with-the-blinds-drawn affair. Given the right conditions, I don’t expect to be awake longer than a few seconds after my head hits the pillow, and it is hard to have a decent nap in under two hours. Yesterday, I slept from about 2:30 until 5. Wonderful.
It is gratifying, therefore, to find that modern scientific research is beginning to understand and appreciate the value of sleep. It is good to know that sleep helps to strengthen memories, that the brain gets a chance to sort and file, and that sleep can help you think through problems.
Over just the past few years, a number of studies have demonstrated the sophistication of the memory processing that happens during slumber. In fact, it appears that as we sleep, the brain might even be dissecting our memories and retaining only the most salient details … During sleep, the brain reactivates patterns of neural activity that it performed during the day, thus strengthening the memories by long-term potentiation … Adding to the excitement, recent discoveries show that sleep also facilitates the active analysis of new memories, enabling the brain to solve problems and infer new information … It is now clear that sleep can consolidate memories by enhancing and stabilizing them and by finding patterns within studied material even when we do not know that patterns might be there.
But even more gratifying is to find a piece like Jenny Diski’s Diary:
[S]leeping, for all its inherent dangers and waste, is and always has been my activity of choice. Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep … Sleep, while it is happening, is nothing to the sleeper. To an observer all kinds of things are happening to the sleeper while she sleeps … Watch sleeping people smile, or mutter, fidget, laugh and shriek. So the observer knows about it, watching you; you do not. Later, you can remember or feel, but the only actual experience of sleep is not-knowing. And not knowing thrills me.