Those moments on the edge of sleep, in the still of the night, have such purpose.
Our thoughts like clouds, linger here, seemingly waiting to be sorted, sifted and settled into relevant compartments of the brain.
I love sleep. Who doesn’t?
But I value even more that precarious window which opens between sleep and wake.
When I was younger, I’d put on a cassette (yes, remember those?) and happily drift off to the harmonies of 50’s groups The Platters, The Drifters, or Fred Parris and the Satins. ‘In the Still of the Night’ took on a literal meaning for me then.
Maybe it was their calming presence, nestled in the background or the company of a soft bed in which to lay my body. Either way, I loved this time of day the best. I still do.
Even more so now because it means an end to a usually chaotic working day, filled with demands or expectations from children, partner, employer, friends, etc.
Whatever our situation, sleep affords us some necessary time to relax and recharge the body.
But it does much more than that. And this bubble before sleep, means even more for our mind and wellbeing.
How seriously do we take our sleep?
There is plenty of evidence out there that confirms the physiological, neurological and psychological benefits of sleep , so I’m not about to delve into those here.
But even without the support of science, having the darkness surround us and with our senses heightened, we feel the tangible presence of our thoughts cajoling us to make good with them. To end the day having processed them properly.
Back then as a kid in my room, in the growing darkness I could exhale and begin to reckon with my thoughts. Process all the questions and uncertainties that seemed to surround us at that age especially.
I used to wonder a lot about life’s great mysteries like; why brothers needed to even exist? When would I be able to understand Maths? And how could I possibly get Marcus Johnson to like me?
Yes those teenage years were heavy.
But in all seriousness, deep questions did plague my mind on the cusp of sleep and still do.
I remember at times being terrified by life, wondering how I was ever going to deal with the loss of a loved one or the unpredictable nature of events that I saw happening all around me.
At night, alone with our thoughts can occasionally be unnerving and yet at the same time vital to our wellbeing.
French Philosopher Descartes knew this when he suggested 350 years ago, that it was the sleeping brain which stored thoughts and solidified memories.
And Scottish physician and philosopher Robert Macnish, who published ‘The Philosophy of Sleep’ back in 1834 wrote that the main objective of sleep (among other things) was “to renovate the mind by the repose which it affords the brain”.
“Very little new information is gained during sleep, but consolidation and maintenance of memory from experiences of the previous day is considerable.” Sleep Physiology: My VMC
Take the good with the bad
I’m not sure if it is the dark or the depleting capacity of my brain to process thoughts rationally at that time of day, but all sorts of scenarios both jubilant and fearful, flit between the workings of our mind on the cusp of sleep.
As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see sense and value in this time of day even more.
That fear which sometimes sneaks into our thoughts, eventually gives way to resignation and acceptance, then hope and excitement at all that tomorrow might bring.
A new untainted version of all that could be waiting for us on the other side of sleep. A new day to exist and new opportunities to experience. And I kind of like that.
In the still of the night, is where we might wrestle with our thoughts, rejoice in them or simply file them away for safe keeping.
But at the very least, the surging wave of sleep which follows, forces us to put aside our troubles and let them burden us no more (at least for the night).
And that is something worth sleeping on.