My son turned 4 last week, which means I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in as many years. Most people sleep away a third of their lives, so, given the average human lifespan, that’s 26 years spent unconscious. Since I’ve been sleeping less, theoretically I’m getting more out of life since I’m awake for a greater percentage of it. Let me assure you this is not the case. I now enjoy less of more. It’s like they say about rich people – having more doesn’t make you happier. But they can afford to outsource their sleeping so I suspect they’re at least better rested. More to the point, merely being awake doesn’t bring one to the pith and marrow of the human experience. The hours I’ve spent awake at the DMV could have been more productively spent in a coma, ditto my entire tenure at San Francisco State University, which made consciousness itself a punishment worthy of Vlad the Impaler.
Though not asleep, describing my state as “awake” is a gross overstatement. “Undead” is closer to the mark. My pallor is grey, I don’t walk so much as stagger and I can’t help repeating the word “brains” as one would the name of a lost dog. My brain, you see, has wandered off, presumably for a nap.
A sleep therapist recommended that I try keeping a “sleep journal” but I was never clear on what I was supposed to record. Quality of sleep? Dreams? Was I to write while sleeping? And could one tell if I had? I just woke up and found that I had written the previous few lines. The only way I can tell the difference between those and the line I’m writing now is that this one is making me tired and I’d likely feel less so if I were sleeping.
Also, I don’t think I “honored the process,” as the therapist would say, because I didn’t buy a fancy leather-bound diary, or even a moleskine, which is a kind of leather but with an “e” at the end. Instead, I kept a cheapo Portage Brand Reporters Notebook on the nightstand. This is the only entry, dated Jan. 2, 2013:
“Our new organic sheet set came from a shop in West Marin. By way of India. I can’t pronounce the name of the place without making it sound suggestive ... We didn’t wash [the sheets] before we put them on the bed and the pillowcases have the faint smell of a shampoo-fresh dog. Or cardboard and rain, or all the other rosy crap they say about corked wine. I thought that the smell would keep me from falling asleep. Instead, I slept halfway into the next day. Now I’m on Indian time. And I don’t feel rested. India is a busy place and I get the impression I’m running behind. My wife thinks so. I check online. Turns out that India is 13-and-half hours ahead. So, technically I’m in the future. This observation buys me nothing ...”
The rest of the notebook is blank, so apparently, I haven’t slept since early January. If I wasn’t so sleep deprived, I might’ve had the presence of mind to put a call into the Guinness Book of World Records. In 2010, Los Angeles-based photographer Tyler Shields claimed to have stayed awake for 40 days. Did he give up sleep for Lent?
No, he was gunning for the record for lack of sleep but Guinness balked because he couldn’t prove he’d actually done it. Somehow the thought of creating photographic evidence slipped the photog’s groggy mind. To add insult to self-inflicted injury, the Internet decided to hate him, decrying his claim as a publicity-seeking hoax. One of the nicer comments on a blog Shields posted upon allegedly surpassing the standing record of 19.5 days reads simply “this guy’s a toolbag.”
It’s OK Tyler, I too am a toolbag. At least that’s what my IQ score says I am, since my brain hasn’t been properly rested since my kid arrived in 2009. I’ll get my revenge soon enough. In about a decade, he’ll be 14 and, if he’s anything like I was, he’ll be prone to those incredible, epic day-long sleep cycles teen males fall into when they land within a few feet of a couch.
That’s when I’ll strike, when he’s deep in his adolescent slumber. I’ll shake him awake and say, “Get up and seize the day! You can catch up on your sleep when you’re my age! You’ll see ...”