12:06 pm
Thu August 16, 2012

Sleep, a major topic... commentary from Joan Carris

Sleep, a major topic... commentary from Joan Carris

Beaufort, NC – "To sleep, perchance to dream," Hamlet muses in his famous soliloquy. Well, that would be fine. If I dream while sleeping, at least I am sleeping!

Some time ago, a sleep study confirmed my doctor's suspicion that I had sleep apnea. A further study let me try out sleep aids to see which one I could wear so that my pipes would allow air to go in and out properly. Now I wear a clear, hard and I'm not joking about hard plastic mask covering my nose and mouth. From it a hose goes to the machine that keeps me breathing regularly all night. The constant air pressure is what does the job.

Ever since I began wearing this mask, I've been almost hoping for a burglar. Upon hearing his stealthy movements, I will rise up in bed and give out an eerie laugh. The burglar will take one look at me and have a heart attack. Then I can call the police and get my picture in the paper. Without the mask, of course.

With my new-found sleeping prowess, I sleep nine hours and wake up a tiger. Unlike real tigers, my sleeping place is secure, so I sleep better than they do. Wild predators have lower quality sleep, as they must always be on the alert, but they probably dream as we do, and as our pets have been proven to do.

Veterinary science has shown that animals' sleep is very similar physiologically to ours. They, too, benefit from the deep, restorative sleep when eyes move rapidly, known as REM sleep. For high quality REM sleep, horses must lie down, although they can doze standing up, thanks to skeletal adaptations. Dolphins let half of their brains sleep, while the other half remains awake.

Family pets share not only our living spaces but some of our sleep disorders, such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea, both of which can be serious. The next time your dog or cat sleeps, watch the sleeping pattern and listen for the sounds. I did that for one of our GrandBabies, a Chihuahua named Augustus Gus, for short. Gus is older now and sleeps more, as all of the elderly do. When asleep, his little paws move as if he's running, chasing one of our daughter's chickens perhaps or hurrying inside for dinner. His nose twitches and he occasionally emits a shrill yip. If he's having a bad dream, he can wake himself up by barking. Our own children moved in the same ways in their sleep, made noises, and would wake up crying from nightmares.

Currently, biologists are tracing the DNA of humans and animals, making comparisons, noting how similar our DNA is to that of animals. This makes me say, "Well, duhhh." If you are having trouble getting the sleep you deserve, I suggest that you snuggle up to your pet and read Moby Dick aloud. It's a fine book, but it starts oh-so-slowly and you're both sure to nod off.

Joan D Carris, 16 July 2012