Of Sleep

The knowledge we have of the greatness of this man’s courage by the rest of his life, may warrant us certainly to judge that his indifference proceeded from a soul so much elevated above such accidents, that he disdained to let it take any more hold of his fancy than any ordinary incident.
MONTAIGNE, “OF SLEEP”

It is 3:16 a.m., and my wife rejuvenates her brain while I lie next to her wasting mine. I am thinking about the papers I have not graded, the debt I have accrued, the careless mason who built our porch, our tenant’s complaint about his un-level toilet, and then, as usual, about my two pubescent sons, wondering if they are not simply shy but rather slow or autistic or maybe just unkind in their reluctance to respond when strangers say hello. Over and over I replay an argument I had with a belligerent colleague before imagining it escalating into a tussle, and while the fantasy of shoving his face into a chalkboard is satisfying, it accelerates my heart rate, and now I am thinking about my blood pressure, which my doctor said should not get much higher or I could have a stroke. He recommended that I get more sleep.

“Six hours a night,” I told him, “is plenty.” It is actually more like four, but my doctor practices his trade aggressively, so it is better to downplay my symptoms than to leave his office with a pocketful of prescriptions and an appointment with a specialist. Every time I go for my annual checkup, I spend thirty minutes being poked and prodded for evidence of a rare disease. Finding no good leads the last time, he settled on my near-hypertension and future stroke being caused by a chronic lack of sleep.

“You need seven to nine hours,” he said, “in order for your body to function properly.”

I assured him that the functions of my body were very proper.

“There’s no need to be defensive,” he responded. “Insomnia is actually quite common.”

He rattled off some statistics, but he was preaching to the choir. I decided to flaunt my knowledge of the subject with a bit of trivia, gathered over the course of my three-decades-long affliction. “You know, Margaret Thatcher slept for only five hours a night,” I said, and then I quoted her line that “sleep is for wimps,” the kind of observation one would expect from a person whose nickname includes a hard metal.

“Sleep is for life,” he countered. “You do, I presume, want to continue yours?”

Now I am thinking about how much I would like to continue my life, so maybe I should keep the appointment he made for me with Dr. Patrick D’Souza, a somnologist….

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