Counting Sheep by Paul Martin sets out to re-evaluate our atitudes towards sleep.
Using quotes from literature, both ancient and modern, and written in an entertaining, talkative style, Paul Martin takes us through the pleasures and problems of sleeping.
Sleep takes up a third of our lifetime - we can survive longer without food than we can without sleep. Although not much is known about this common activity, what is known has been put into the book. From why we sleep to what dreams really are (with Freud given a rough ride), including a history of beds and why men, and women, experience nocturnal erections, Counting Sheep is a fascinating read.
Our lives are run by a '24-hour cycle governed by an internal clock' - the circadian rhythm. Humans and other animals are all controlled by an internal clock, and it is no coincedence that our circadian rhythms coincide with the Earth's twenty-four hour cycle. This, in theory, is nature's way of trying to get us to sleep when we should and for a certain amount of time which would be beneficial. Unfortunately nature doesn't always get her way.
Many of us don't get enough sleep. Due to pressures of society - trying to fit in all that work, rest and play - people find it increasingly hard to manage their quota in bed a day. But, even by going to bed half an hour earlier at night, it is quite simple to re-coup a sleep deficit. The medical profession is also ill-equipped to deal with sleep related problems - a mere five percent of a doctor's training is spent on sleep disorders - and many problems (including ADHD and depression) may have a starting place with lack of sleep.
The bedroom should not, generally, be used for any other function other than sleep. If you must use it for another activity, then sex is the only one which should be considered - no television, computer games or work from the office.
Many people may try to catch up on their lack of sleep by trying to catch a nap on the long commute to work. Humans are designed to sleep horizontally not vertically. If you try to sleep while sitting you will only succeed in reaching NREM (Non Rapid Eye Movement) or 'slow wave' sleep. When you sleep your muscles relax and you won't reach REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep because your head will slump forward thus waking you up. This is where the phrase 'nodding off' originates and why your next door neighbour on the train will find your head on their shoulder. By not completing a full sleep cycle this way you do not reap the full benefits of sleep.
Sleep can, and should, be a pleasure and two of the most pleasing aspects are dreaming - it's free and needs no special equipment - and napping. Hints are given on how improve your dream-life, including lucid dreaming (is it real or a dream?) and how to gain the most from daytime napping.
The reasons why we sleep are not so cut and dried and many theories exist. The most obvious theory being that it is used to recuperate but 'the scientific evidence provides only luke warm support for this view'. NREM sleep evolved first and is more likely to be used in the conservation of energy, while REM sleep, a later evolutionary function, has been shown to be involved in memory and learning. When someone learns a new skill or piece of information there is a marked increase in their REM sleep. Students would be advised to get a good nights sleep before an exam rather than cramming into the early hours.
'Sleep is surely an excellent thing' and not enough of us are doing it. We seem to want to do little else except 'work, commute, shop and be entertained'. So, the next time you reach for your caffeine energy drink, don't, have a read of this book and find out what you could be doing instead.
Sleep Experiment: 42 hours a day
Uberman's sleep schedule