Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ode to a good snooze

Man, I love to sleep. I just love everything about it; the coziness, the comfi-ness, (feel free to ask me how much I love my Sleep Number bed), the wacky dreams and of course, the all important restorative nature.

I used to be able to sleep in late when I was younger but now I wake up at 7:00 whether I go to bed at 10:00 PM or 2:00 AM. Granted the 2:00 AM evenings just don't happen that much anymore but I still wish I could sleep in like the old days.

I am thankful that both my kids sleep well and through the night. It never has been a problem but I remember actively working at it. I remember letting them each "cry it out", trying hard to ignore the crying and the ferocious guilt. But at the other end of it, both my kids sleep like bricks through the night and wake up happy and ready to go.

On a cold winter Sunday I can really appreciate the idea of hibernation. I read recently that pre-industrial Europeans did sort-of hibernate during the winter . With short winter days and long cold nights, it feels natural to go to bed early and then sleep late. Most, if not all, agrarian activities stopped, so there wasn't much for all the farm hands to do. There were the beasts of burden and the family cow or goat, they needed to be tending winter or not. But, in those days they usually lived inside with the people (!)

From the NY Times, The Big Sleep by Graham Robb.

Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring. The fields were deserted from Flanders to Provence. Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end.

In the mountains, the tradition of seasonal sloth was ancient and pervasive. “Seven months of winter, five months of hell,” they said in the Alps. When the “hell” of unremitting toil was over, the human beings settled in with their cows and pigs. They lowered their metabolic rate to prevent hunger from exhausting supplies. If someone died during the seven months of winter, the corpse was stored on the roof under a blanket of snow until spring thawed the ground, allowing a grave to be dug and a priest to reach the village.

The same mass dormancy was practiced in other chilly parts. In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in northwestern Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending one-half of the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread. ... The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself” and “goes out to see if the grass is growing.”

Wow, that puts it in perspective for me. No wonder I feel like heading up to bed at 6:30 PM these days; right after dinner with a good book, of course. Ahhhhh.... cozy.

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