A Paean to the Most Soothing of those Comforters — Sweet Slumber

Published: 27th August 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th August 2015 10:29 PM   |  A+A-

The mayor of the small town of Ador in Spain Joan Faus Vittoria decreed a three-hour nap in the middle of a working day for all its residents and workers. The Spanish rite of a siesta, a cultural phenomenon has been given official sanction. So each afternoon Ador becomes a ghost village with its people napping. If only such naps can be extended to the enervating afternoons of our country, many of our babus would be immensely gratified. Imagine dispensing with all those meetings where many of them are anyway catching their forty winks while the meetings are lost in  monologues. Of course the workaholics among us with their holier-than- thou work ethic stinting on their sleep and suffering health hazards would benefit from this compulsory respite.

Power naps taken during working hours to restore one’s alertness and quickly revitalise the subject have become part of corporate lore the world over. The expression has been coined by Cornell University social psychologist James Mass, also the author of the New York Times bestseller Power Sleep. Special nap rooms are set up in offices with sleeping pods, chairs, recliners and other sleep-promoting equipment to improve the nappers’ mental and physical wellbeing, thereby enhancing their efficiency and productivity and their propensity to meet daunting challenges and take the right decisions. Whether that actually happens would be perhaps the stuff of further painstaking research. In Japan, where the concept was introduced, the power nap goes by the name of inemuri, the Japanese practice of sleeping on the job. The word in the literal sense is “sleeping while present”. The philosophy is that an employee spends so much time working that he sleeps too little at home. Hence the necessity of a power nap. There is also the coffee nap where drinking a cup of coffee is the one thing before a short 15- minute nap. Sleep techniques are extended even to children with the Swedish behavioural psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin writing The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep to help children sleep. The 19th century Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed Kubla Khan one night immediately after he had a vision in his sleep. He experienced an opium-influenced dream on reading a work describing ‘Xanadu’, the summer palace of the Chinese emperor Kubla Khan.

Sleep rules a third of our life and is the most welcome spell in a weary world forever on the run. A time to restore frayed nerves and rejuvenate the soul, a time to dream and shelve the travails of living, in short, a deliverance at the end of the day. It is indeed an escape to a more serene world, a lull in the incessant activity of living where everything seems possible. Sleep is a stimulant of that mighty leveller, ‘death’s counterfeit’, which takes us all by turn. We die every day to come alive the next till there comes a day where there is no wakening. There is the sleep of the child in repose, a dreamless sleep of unalloyed bliss unconcerned about what the next day would bring. There is the sleep of the honest man who does his job without fear or favour with a clear conscience. There is the sleep of the guilt-ridden, where nightmares rage and a beleaguered conscience comes alive with skeletons rattling in their cupboards. Guilt and sorrow defy sleep as when Macbeth says to his doctor ‘Canst thou not minister to a mind deceased/pluck out  from the memory a rooted sorrow/ raze out the written troubles of the brain?”

There is something ineffably sad about the inert body of a sleeper, the passivity and the mere innocence sleep projects, however strong or weak, virtuous or wicked. There are those who enjoy the luxury of sleep in state-of-the-art bedrooms and there are those who have the pavement for bed and the sky for a roof. Yet they sleep and, perhaps, they sleep more soundly. In the end, there is Shakespeare to tell us “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”


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