Sleep is one of the most mysterious of human experiences. It is the polar opposite to waking awareness, with its focused sense of personal existence and external sensory impressions. From this point of view, there are several levels of conscious life. The first is waking awareness; the second is dreaming sleep – immersion in symbolic representation and the acceptance of these as real; the third is lucidity within a dream – the awareness of dream imagery as symbols and recognition of the symbols being personal creations and not external reality; the fourth is dreamless sleep, or awareness beyond ego, symbols, thoughts or emotion.
American sleep research laboratories in recent years have pointed out that the invention of the electric light bulb has disoriented normal sleep patterns. Millions of people suffer sleep disorders or sleep starvation. According to the National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska was the result of the third mate falling asleep while piloting the ship. Similarly, the melt down at the Three Mile Island atomic power plant in Pennsylvania in 1979 almost led to a massive nuclear explosion, and was due to a technician being asleep and failing to hear an alarm.
40 million Americans are estimated to be chronically ill with sleep disorders. Few people recognise their condition and its cause however. Signs of it are chronic tiredness needing constant stimulants to keep going during the day; constant falling asleep during work, talks, driving, inability to wake easily in the morning. As sleep plays an equally important part in healthy long life as nutrition and exercise, it is important to assure its quality. If our pattern and quality of sleep is disturbed, we may fail to notice the influence of such drinks as coffee, chocolate and alcohol, all of which disturb sleep.
See also: Sleep better