© 2018 Francesca Millican-Slater

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On sleep and then the night.

A strange relationship with sleep and the sleepless occurs while mining the internet for information on the subject. And it is subjective, what I choose to ask google, look for,  what sites I visit, how far down the rabbit hole I go. Translating and filtering already stolen and filtered information, I could consider this more a strand in technology than the dark of the night and being awake. So I go back to sleep. 

 

My relationship with sleep is not a particularly complex one, begins more as an intrigue in the space of it.  Aged 8 or so I constructed a chart in green felt tip of the different positions I would tell myself to fall asleep in, attempting to monitor the change in position when I woke up the next morning. Proving to my bemused  and unsurprised parents that 'we did' move in our sleep (I have always been prone to grand and in-depth research techniques and suppositions). It was an attempt to control what continues to happen to our bodies when we are not consciously in control 'dead to the world'.  And I remember hearing something about a man that believed that sleep was the cousin of death (death being another childhood obsession of mine) and so he refused to sleep, leading eventually to a hallucinatory ending of which he was most afriad.  And I can't find quite where this comes from, searches for the quotes bringing up Nas's N.Y. State of Mind, old quotes from long texts. 

 

A fascination with this thing, sleep, that takes us over, this thing, sleep, that we have to do. I never used to understand choosing to lie in, a fear of missing out on the day a more driving impetuous than the want to bury myself in the folds of sheets. This has changed somewhat, I now enjoy, the nihility of the night. Of the nap. Which, is not always forthcoming. Many will recognise the over working brain, or mind, turning over time until the light comes. And the alarm goes. Statistics and articles telling us that 'we' have difficulty switching off and finding our sleep. This is not new. 

 

I can pin point the first time I really couldn't sleep, minor incidences before to do with anxieties of commuting trains, and lying next to slumbering bodies other than my own. I still believe, that for me, sleep is a private act, one I'd rather do without arms around me. This changes, in alcohol infusion or in training myself to the contours of a consistent partner. It's more to do with embarrassment at my own snoring, dribbles and night chats than some sociopathic solitary space as I claim. I'd rather do the dribbles without company. But, I never really had problem sleeping, it was something that we had to do. I'd never give into the night sweats, I was not that way inclined. 

 

The first night I couldn't find my sleep was at a time that I had a consistent partner, one I had trained myself to slumber with, he who could sleep for England. He, who slept through Twin Peaks blasting out of the TV in the bedroom of a ground floor flat while I whispered to him 'Are you Bob?' He, who slept through me tripping over into bed with accusations and reprimands unfounded. He. that didn't wake up enough to know that I was leaving, that I longed for the skin of someone new, and I'd change everything for that desire. It was guilt, anxiety and the thrill of the drama that kept me awake that night, young as I was, and that particular night up, awake, that changed my relationship to sleep. There's always someone keen to tell your bloodshot eyes 'You'll never get that sleep back'. 

 

I started looking for when the term insomnia came into use, ingrained as it is culturally. Faithless's beats as a whole generation responds to the word with 'I can't get no sleep...do do do do do do' the instrumental not really translating into the written word.  Insomnia, the term came into frequent use, later than I thought, in collusion with industry and the beginnings of commercialism. Sleeplessness, of course, has been around as long as sleep (Egyptians with temples dedicated to dreams, tinctures for sleep named after Roman Emperors that couldn't find their slumber) but as a modern affliction of named 'insomnia' appears to be only just over 100 years or so old.  Back I go to the past to find some sense of now. Most of this information has been gleaned and stolen from articles by a man, Jim Horne, who is a sleep neuroscientist jimhorne.co.uk. In finding him through finding the origins of the use of the word insomnia (and later still Insomniac) there is quote he uses, itself from British Medical Journal in 1894. 

 

'The subject of sleeplessness is once more under public discussion. The hurry and excitement of modern life is held to be responsible for much of the insomnia we hear; and most of the articles and letters are full of good advice to live more quietly and of platitudes concerning the harmfulness of rush and worry. The pity of it is that so many people are unable to follow this good advice and are obliged to lead a life of anxiety and high tension'  

 

It sounds familiar, relevant, not out of place in an article on buzzfeed or the huffington post that you read on your lunchbreak, on your phone when searching how to get a better sleep. 

 

Jim quoted this in an article written in 2008. 8 years ago, when iPhones had just been launched to delight of apple aficionados. When the internet in your pocket was slow to connect, grey and black screens, with buttons, more common than the colour touch screen. 8 years ago, when pub quizzes and lively discussions on different opinions about 80's TV's shows were not as prematurely aborted by swiping fingers providing the definitive answer via 4G. When the ipad was a twinkle in someone's eye. Probably.  And of course we can find all of that good advice on how to live a quieter a life, less in rush and work, online, on devices just before we lay our heads down. There's the blue light on our faces and at our finger tips. 

 

With the invention of the lightbulb came a way to cheat the night. Fool our own bodies into believing it was daytime. We are meant to sleep in the dark, as the sun sets we're hard wired to rest. A biological need to build our melatonin, keep our bloods pumping in pressure's and level to just the right rise. But if there is more light, we can do more. Switching on the the lightbulb led to a celebration in less need to sleep. Sleep is just to stop the sleepiness. Now there is opportunity and means to stay awake, connected, ever available. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should. Although if everyone else is...and I can find out if they are... Anxiety in the unfinished work, and words, means and ways and wants to succeed and missing out on possibilities. As our Victorian counterparts those modern anxieties are exacerbated and provided for by the modern world itself.  

 

And so what I found as I trawl the web is sleep, the night, the dark is to process, biologically, let our mind wonder away, repair, recuperate, make sense in our sub conscious. And I wonder about the dark and what it does to us if we are not asleep. I wonder about the anxiety we create for ourselves, the confirmation of it and the reflection that we find. And that we can't stop looking. That I realise that by writing this I am adding to the clamour. 100's and 100's of blogs and posts from mothers, and writers and people not sleeping. Diary's of an insomniac's.  Different reasons. A post from a boy written on online gaming forum, that he specifically put in 'the trash' section, awake still for 24 hours or more, telling his story of why he doesn't sleep like other people. Unable, he wrote, to say the words in person, here he is typing in the dark, looking for confirmation. And a response in support and positivity. 

 

Heart beats faster, with the confirmation and contact. Thumbs up. Awake. 

 

I look to the night and it's structure, delicious names in the sun rising and the natural light advancing:

 

Astronomical Twilight 12-18 degrees angle from the geometric centre of the sun. Just after the dark. 

 

Nautical Twilight 6-12 degrees angle from the geometric centre of the sun. The stars still visible to guide the boats afloat at sea. 

 

Civil Twilight, the light of civility, 6-0 degrees from the geometric centre of the sun. Enough natural light for switching off of bulbs and torches. The brightest stars still just visible. 

 

4 to 5 hours of darkness. Darkness, the sun below the horizon. On average in this country. Look to the nightmares of children, their anxieties of the dark. What we were afraid of in the dark. What we still are now, those monsters growing larger from the lack of light. What we allow ourselves now, in the dark. What stories that we tell. Or we'd want to hear. Relieve the night or embrace those hours. There is a luxury in us, those that can afford to embrace the night. Awake or not. 

 

I've written this as I would usually write initially for a research based performance, facts, and studies filtered down, beginnings of old stories that might become something else when spoken on stage. Before my tactic has been in power point and pseudo facts, and now as a writer, as a maker, there is a question in to how I transfer these thoughts and streams into stories. And whether sleep, or lack of it, is not the centre of the show but I needed to look inside it. Know behind it, to think about the night. And other things. 

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March 29, 2016

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