Like most other things, sleep means different things to us at different stages of our life. My own relationship with sleep – actually, I guess I should call it a love affair – is as old as I can remember. It’s also been a mirror for my life,
Waking up groggily after a traumatic visit to the dentist aged around five is probably one of my earliest sleep memories. Even now, decades later, I vividly recall that day. Dental episodes aside, back then, sleep came quickly and easily to me. Like flicking the off switch on a machine. How I long for those days!
As I grew up and entered the uncharted territory of double figures, I developed a contradictory relationship with sleep. Like most kids that age, bedtime was my enemy. How dare my Mum assume I was such a wuss that I actually needed to go to bed!? However, once I got there, there was nowhere I loved more. As a result, getting me out of bed in the morning became a long, drawn-out affair. On more than one occasion my eternally patient parents used a sponge soaked in ice water to rouse me. In true teenage fashion, this only made me more stubborn!
Teenage meltdowns aside, at different times sleep, has been my friend, my enemy and something tantalizingly out of reach. In periods of trouble, it has been my refuge. A shelter, safely cocooned from the chaos of consciousness. In my college years, it became a distraction. An unwelcome interruption to my 24-7 hedonistic existence. I often found myself dozing on a pile of coats in the corner of a bedroom at some long-forgotten party. These days, I can only marvel at my ability to take what was, in essence, a power nap at three o’clock in the morning. Even more incredible is the fact this was often accompanied by ear-shattering music a few feet away.
However, life has its way of keeping us moving. When the party eventually stopped, I discovered a new passion – travel. Entering this bold new chapter in my life, sleep became more valuable than gold. From freezing monasteries high in the Himalayas to sweltering guesthouses in the Middle East, I became a grandmaster in the art of falling asleep. I could literally put my head down anywhere.
From Kathmandu to Kansas City I made countless, cold concrete airport floors my mattress and pillow. I slept soundly under the stars in Yosemite Valley, casually dismissing the bears that roamed the surrounding forest. I even mastered the art of contorting myself into those awful plastic airport seats. From this torturous position, I snoozed through the wee small hours many times, waiting for the airline’s standby desk to open.
Now, I’m at an age when airport floors are (hopefully) a thing of the past. Every night, I put my own kids to sleep. As I did this tonight, I couldn’t help reflecting on my own sleep journey. Perhaps they’ll have similar experiences – but would that be a bad thing? I’m actually quite tired now – can I sleep on it?