Mysteries of sleep

Many are the mysteries that surround sleep. Take for instance the question, ‘Are you sleeping?’ The answer can never be in the affirmative. Any response can come only from a person who has been shaken out of sleep and is therefore awake. Likewise, there is no one who can describe sleep as and when it is being experienced. The term, ‘a good night’s sleep’ really refers to what you feel after the event is over. This is perhaps one reason why scientists are unable to explain comprehensively the true nature of sleep.
What, however, is most intriguing is that sleep, a basic human need, seems to possess a will and way of its own. It cannot be had for love or for money. You may long and even crave for sleep, but you can enjoy it only when it comes of its own accord. Sleeping tablets seem to do the trick, but the repose they bring is a poor imitation, leaving in its wake a nasty hangover.

No wonder then that poets and writers wax eloquent over the virtues of sleep, with Shakespeare lauding it as ‘the balm of hurt minds and chief nourisher of life’s feast.’ Not surprising too that people down the ages have used extraordinary measures to woo sleep. Enrico Caruso, the renowned tenor, had to be surrounded by 18 pillows. Russian noblemen had servants to scratch their feet to induce a feeling of relaxation. In our country, rich men in the past installed a manual fan called the ‘punkah’, which was swung through the night by servants hired for the purpose. Coming to modern times, it has been estimated that sleeping pills and tranquillisers are among the highest-selling drugs.
Is it possible then to bend sleep to our will? Seems unlikely, but my father was one who could summon it with ease. He was a dedicated doctor, completely devoted to the care of his patients. No hour of the day or night prevented him from responding to their call. As a result, he hardly ever enjoyed a full night’s rest. He made up this loss by snatching sleep in between visits in his car. His faithful driver woke him at his destination. It did not go unnoticed and gave rise to whispers that he was fond of the bottle. He shrugged off these rumours with a smile. He died as he lived, ordering his own rest. Stricken with cancer, he was on a support system. On Shivarathri morning, he requested that it be removed. As the temple bells rang out, he breathed his last, slipping peacefully into the long sleep from which there is no return.

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