Mystery and Excellence on The Human Body - Sleep



We all sleep: infants and children more than adolescents, adolescents more than adults, and some adults more than others. But a periodic alternation of sleep with wakefulness is universal, and suggests that sleep fulfils a basic biological need of the organism. On average, human beings spend one third of their lives in sleep.

What happens in sleep is that our consciousness withdraws from the field of its waking experience; it is supposed to be resting, suspended or in abeyance, but that is a superficial view of the matter. What is in abeyance is the waking activities, what is at rest is the surface mind and the normal conscious action of the bodily part of us; but the inner consciousness is not suspended, it enters into new inner activities, only a part of which, a part happening or recorded in something of us that is near to the surface, we remember. There is maintained in sleep, thus near the surface, an obscure subconscious element which is a receptacle or passage for our dream experiences, and itself also a dream-builder. After a time this subconscious activity appears to sink back into complete inconscience we speak of this state as deep dreamless sleep; thence we emerge again into the dream-shallows or return to the waking surface.

But in fact, in what we call dreamless sleep, we go into a profounder and denser layer of the subconscient, a state too involved, too immersed or too obscure, dull and heavy to bring to the surface its structures, and we are dreaming there but unable to grasp or retain these more obscure dream figures. However, it is possible to become wholly conscious in sleep; it is found that then we are aware of ourselves passing from state after state of consciousness to a brief period of luminous and peaceful dreamless rest, which is the true restorer of the energies of the waking nature, and then returning by the same way to the waking consciousness.



The Nature of Sleep: the Scientific Viewpoint

In order to try to understand sleep, scientists use an apparatus known  as an electroencephalogram (EEG). In sleep experiments, electrodes  attached to a sleeper's head are connected to this machine which then  records brain wave patterns. Devices are also attached to the sleeper to  record eye movements, heart rate, temperature, and so forth. From thousands of laboratory experiments over the years, scientists have concluded that there are two principal kinds of sleep, and that a person normally moves from one to another at 90-minute intervals throughout the  night.

When we first go to bed, we fall into slow-wave sleep, so named for  the fact that brain waves slow down. We gradually drift into a quiet state  in which both temperature and pulse rate drop. Subjects awakened from  this stage of sleep seldom report dreams. Then, approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, the blood pressure, pulse and breathing become  irregular. The ears are tuned for hearing and the eyes dart back and forth.  This is REM (for rapid eye movement) sleep, also known as paradoxical sleep because it is unlike the popular idea of sleep as a quiet state.  The brain is as active as when awake, and the brainwaves resemble  those emitted in the daytime. Subjects awakened from paradoxical or  REM sleep almost always report dreams. About 25 percent of the night  is spent in this kind of sleep.

Another interesting — and paradoxical — observation about REM  sleep is that although the brain and body appear to be as highly aroused  and active as during the waking state, subjects awakened from this stage  report that they were very deeply asleep. And the sleeper is also much  less aware of external stimuli during REM sleep. Scientists interpret this  finding as follows. When we are attentive to something, we are less likely to be distracted by any noise or movement around us than might otherwise be the case. The child reading with avid interest may not hear his  mother calling. In other words, insensitivity to external stimulation is  not always indicative of mental lethargy; to the contrary, it may reflect  a high degree of attentiveness.

Narcolepsy, Insomnia and Sleep Deprivation

Pity the poor narcoleptic. He is likely to fall asleep at the peak  moment of a film, in the midst of a conversation, while driving a car.  He suffers from narcolepsy, a disorder in which the victim is subject to



sudden, uncontrollable attacks of sleep lasting anywhere from five to  twenty minutes. Narcoleptics may have other symptoms, too. They  sometimes lose muscle tone suddenly and fall down, and in the few  moments between waking and sleeping, they may hallucinate or experience brief paralysis. The cause of narcolepsy is not understood by conventional science, though world literature has several vivid victims of  this disorder, from Kumbhakarna, the giant brother of Ravana in the Ramayana, to Rip Van Winkle.

While the narcoleptic cannot stay awake, the insomniac cannot fall  asleep. Among the commonest reasons for insomnia are anxiety and  depression. Physical ailments can also make it difficult to sleep as can  abuse of common drugs that affect the brain. Over the long run, sleeping pills, especially barbiturates, are apt to make insomnia worse rather  than better. There are no pills that foster normal sleep. Some pills abolish the deepest stages of REM sleep, and most suppress much-needed REM sleep.

Then there are those who simply do not need to sleep as much as most people. Napoleon and Winston Churchill are famous examples.  Churchill always insisted on an afternoon "siesta" of about one hour, but  then would work until two or even three in the morning, only to rise  again by six a.m. ready for more intensive work.

Perhaps no one has described the anguish of the insomniac as vividly and poetically as Shakespeare's King Henry V

O Sleep, O gentle Sleep,

Nature's soft nurse, how have I frightened thee 

That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down 

And steep my senses in forgetfulness? 

Why rather. Sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs, 

Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee 

And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber, 

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great 

Under the canopies of costly state, 

And lull'd with sound of sweetest melody? 

O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile 

In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch 

A watch-case of a common 'larum bell? 

Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast



Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains 

In cradle of the rude imperious surge 

And in the visitation of the winds, 

Who take the ruffian billows by the top, 

Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them 

With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds, 

That, with the hurly, death itself awakes? 

Canst thou, O partial Sleep, give thy repose 

To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude, 

And in the calmest and most stillest night, 

With all appliances and means to boot, 

Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down! 

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

(King Henry IV, 2, III, i.4-31.)

Insomnia is not considered an illness, and most insomniacs are able  to live normal lives. However, the effects of prolonged sleep deprivation  are well known: a loss of efficiency in mental and physical functioning,  irritability, and tendencies toward perceptual distortions and ideational  confusion. When laboratory animals have been deprived of sleep, they  die after ten sleepless days.

The American aviator Charles Lindbergh describes a remarkable  experience brought on by sleep deprivation during his record-breaking  flight across the Atlantic:

"On May 20, 1927, after months of concentrated effort,  frustration, and the threat of probable failure, I flew from  New York to Paris in a single-cockpit, single-engine mono plane christened Spirit of St. Louis. I had spent twenty three hours without sleep when I took off, and obviously  there would be no opportunity to sleep before I landed. My  lack of sleep turned out to be the most-difficult and dangerous factor of the flight, but it resulted in an inner experience that seemed to penetrate beyond mortality.

"There comes a point when the body's demand for sleep is  harder to endure than any other pain I have encountered,  when it results in a state of semiconsciousness in which an



awareness exists that is less acute but apparently more universal than that of the normal mind. Before my flight was  halfway finished, I found that I could not force myself to  stay awake through will power. The rational mind I had  previously known and relied upon had less and less effect  on my body's responses. There were lengthening periods  when it even lost the knowledge of its own existence, when  an intelligence without the need for reason had replaced it.  "Over and over again on the second day of my flight, I  would return to mental alertness sufficiently to realize that  I had been flying while I was neither asleep nor awake. My  eyes had been open. I had responded to my instruments'  indications and held generally to compass course, but I had  lost sense of circumstance and time. During immeasurable  periods, I seemed to extend outside my plane and body,  independent of worldly values, appreciative of beauty,  form, and colour without depending upon my eyes. It was an  experience in which both the intellectual and sensate were  replaced by what might be termed a matterless awareness.  It was the only occasion in my life when I saw and con versed with ghosts.

"They appeared suddenly in the tail of the fuselage while I  was flying through fog. I saw them clearly although my  eyes were staring straight ahead. Transparent, mistlike,  with semihuman form, they moved in and out through the  fabric walls at will. One or two of them would come for ward to converse with me and then rejoin the group behind.  I can still see those phantoms clearly in memory, but after  I landed at Paris I could not remember a single word they  said."

The following words of The Mother are very instructive:

"To sleep well one must learn how to sleep. If one is physically tired, it is better not to go to sleep immediately, otherwise one falls into the inconscient. If one is very tired,  one must stretch out on the bed, relax, loosen all the nerves  one after another until one becomes like a rumpled cloth in



one's bed, as though one had neither bones nor muscles.  When one has done that, the same thing must be done in  the mind. Relax, do not concentrate on any idea or try to  solve a problem or ruminate on impressions, sensations or  emotions you had during the day. All that must be allowed  to drop off quietly; one gives oneself up, one is indeed like  a rag. When you have succeeded in doing this, there is  always a little flame there — that flame never goes out and  you become conscious of it when you have managed this  relaxation. And all of a sudden this little flame rises slowly into an aspiration for the divine life, the truth, the consciousness of the Divine, the union with the inner being, it  goes higher and higher, it rises, rises, like that, very gently.  Then everything gathers there, and if at that moment you  fall asleep, you have the best sleep you could possibly  have. If you do this carefully, you are sure to sleep, and  also sure that instead of falling into a dark hole, you will  sleep in light, and when you get up in the morning, you will  be fresh, fit, content, happy and full of energy for the day."



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