Murdered sleep: Is Macbeth to blame?
Shakespeare claimed “Macbeth does murder sleep.” But wait. Maybe Macbeth is not entirely to blame for killing off the benefits of sleep which Shakespeare extolled as follows:”…Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care. The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course. Chief nourisher in life’s feast…”
Okay. Macbeth is long dead. So what is making it so difficult for so many 21st Century people to get a “good” night’s sleep? In his fascinating history of sleep, “Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World,” (2017) Emory University Professor Benjamin Reiss says pre-Industrial Age peoples slept a lot differently and maybe even better than we denizens of the 21st Century who have been taught that our best chances for a good eight hours of sleep are found in private, secluded, dark, quiet, properly-mattressed, relatively cool bedrooms, with children exiled to their own room or rooms.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, men, women and children slept together in ways far different than we moderns. Pre-modern villagers tended to sleep in groups, usually related, but not necessarily. They did so for safety and sometimes to keep each other warm. Instead of the straight eight hours of sleep we are taught to seek, the rustics would sleep for a few hours then wake up for an hour or so of sleepy conversation. Then, back to sleep until the cock crows at dawn. In other words, “segmented sleep.”
As darkness fell in the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia, we became very sleepy — circadian rhythms at work — and, unless on watch, we slept well until just before first light, when the enemy were most likely to attack our night-defensive position. Soldiers in two-man foxholes used a form of segmented sleep in that they took turns sleeping, the system enforced by periodic visits from non-commissioned officers and lieutenants, crawling their rounds. Our company headquarters was in the center of the perimeter where the only sound was the almost inaudible rushing noise coming from the radios that connected us to higher headquarters and to our beloved direct-support artillery battery, to the on-call helicopter gunships, and, if need be, to medivac helicopters.
We had no night-time entertainment, save my recitations from what I could remember from the poems of Rudyard Kipling and Robert Service. If that did not put my headquarters troops to sleep, nothing would. To this day, I cannot recite “Gunga Din” clear through without putting myself to sleep. In any ways, we soldiers were like the ancients of yesteryear: a circle of unrelated males practicing segmented sleep for mutual safety. Looking back, the best sleep I can ever recall was on the lumpy jungle floor covered only by a poncho liner.
The mills and factories of the Industrial Revolution depended on workers showing up on time and staying awake through shifts of ten hours or more. No time for napping. Therefore, we can “thank” industrialization and mechanization for where the “civilized” world finds itself today with our ubiquitous laptops, smart phones, social media, caffeine-laced lattes, 24-hour cable TV news and weather. In other words, all the things that keep us from getting a good night’s sleep.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University. For more, see: http://www.central-view.com.
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