17th Century poet, John Milton once asked, “What hath night to do with sleep?” This is a question I can completely relate to mostly because sometimes weeks go by and I get barely a few hours each night. However unlike Milton I’m not blind, and I don’t have to sleep in vermin infested bedding so maybe it’s not a fair comparison. It’s not that I can’t sleep due to anxiety or something like that. It’s just that sleep wants no part of me. Most nights I feel like a jilted girlfriend. Thankfully there’s cable. I spend a lot of time watching movies. I tell myself it’s a good thing. It’s quiet and I can focus. Sometimes I watch without sound. They say this is a good way to learn to direct, though I don’t want to direct but it’s good to be prepared. Out of Sight is a big late night favorite these days. Everything about that movie makes me want to move to Detroit and become a corrections officer. I love the soundtrack, the lighting, the weather, and of course the love scene where George and JLo peel off their clothes. Soderbergh admits it is an homage to the sex scene in Don’t Look Now but frankly I think it’s better.
I saw Don’t Look Now at LACMA one Friday night and it scared the hell out of me. Based on a Daphne du Maurier story, it’s about a couple who go to Italy in order to reconnect after a tragedy and end up being stalked by a dwarf in a red coat. Funnily enough, the name Daphne Du Maurier always reminds me of French author Guy de Maupassant who was, in my mind, a man obsessed with two things: moustaches and the ugliness of the Eiffel Tower. Granted, it’s not the prettiest structure around (it’s no Chrysler) but studying how it swayed in the wind expanded the entire field of aerodynamics, set standards for tests used by NASA and affected everything from airplanes to curveballs. Sure it was ugly, but it possessed a larger significance that the mustachioed Maupassant failed to see.
But what is the larger significance of my lack of sleep and when did sleep become such an issue anyway? Did cavemen get insomnia? I’m guessing they didn’t.
When it got dark they passed out, though life was brutal back then, so they probably had one eye open. But around the Neolithic Era people began farming, which led to the erection of huts, and with them primitive bug-laden beds.
Bedding didn’t really improve much until the Romans invented luxury bedding, which was probably an improvement over the Greek linen sheet set. Speaking of the Greeks, the god of sleep, Hypnos, needed opium to get to bed, which begs the question: If the God of Sleep needed opium, what hope have I?
Still everyone in the area from Alexander the Great to Marcus Aurelius used opium before bed. Maybe if I were one of those kentake warriors from Kush (the ones who sent Alexander the Great packing when he tried to invade Ethiopia), opium before bed would be an option. Opium was an extremely popular sleep enhancer and anesthetic until around 1300 C.E. At this point it disappeared from the European world. This was related to the power of the Inquistions where anything remotely associated with the East was considered evil. Better to operate on someone totally awake then risk the evil numbing influence of an Eastern poppy. Or maybe it was that with the Inquisition ‘pain’ became the new black. And how those Inquisitors loved their racks! But when they tired of stretching and flaying they went old school relying on mock executions, sexual abuse, and… sleep deprivation.
Lack of sleep is a form of torture, so is the fact that it’s 3:39am and the only thing on is Eyes Wide Shut, which in my current sleepless state can best be described as a film about La Perla underwear. I read once that in rats, prolonged complete sleep deprivation increases both food intake and energy expenditure, leading to weight loss and, ultimately, death aka The Big Sleep, which coincidentally is also on at the moment (TBS). I don’t love watching hardboiled Private-Eyes and their Femme Fatale counterparts mostly because half the time I don’t really understand what the hell is going on. Those films are all about chemistry. Which is really what sleep is about.
When we sleep our brain connects the dots and finds patterns inside the bigger picture. The sleeping brain isn’t a metaphor for death or an annihilation of consciousness, it’s an active purposeful machine, sorting out the day’s events and opening the aperture of memory. Deciding what can stay and what can go. By connecting dots and allowing patterns to emerge we become filled with a sense of well-being when we wake the next day. At MIT a scientist named Matthew Wilson has a group of rats walk through a maze for hours during the day. The rats wear little red hats fitted with wires that attach to their neurons. The hats make them look like Carmen Miranda (or so he says) and at night, he listens to them sleep and the chatter of the neurons, a kind of music of its own, mimics the sound of the neurons when the rats are going through the maze. The rats are practicing and sorting the maze in their sleep. The next day they wake up and they can do the maze faster and more efficiently.
There is nothing efficient about my brain at the moment. Apparently, the hidden connections that help us make sense of the world are in no mood to make sense of mine. Although maybe the sound of chattering neurons is all I really need. I wonder if Mr. Wilson has any plans to download the music of his Carmen Miranda hat-wearing rats to Itunes? I’m certain if I heard that, I’d be lulled to sleep. Until then, it’s going to be another long night.