If you are in India and belong to a rather conservative social strata, you are constantly hearing about brahma muhurtham – that apparently “godly” period of the day that “starts 1 hour 36 minutes before sunrise and ends 48 minutes before it”, in which you are supposed to awaken for all kinds of good things to happen to you.
If you are middle aged, the most frequent complaint you hear from your peers is how little they can or need to sleep.
You google sleep disorders, and there are more results for insomnia than hypersomnia. I bet you didn’t know the latter word. I didn’t.
Indian godmen, whom my better half refers to as “Corporate saamiyar”* preach that we don’t need eight hours of shut eye because “a machine so sophisticated does not need to be in maintenance mode half the time” – which is wrong at a mathematical level – 8 hours is not half of 24.
I am surrounded by people who need half that much to function. My better half sleeps four hours a day and hits the ground running**. He’s usually done with his work by the time his bleary-eyed wife pumps coffee into herself in an attempt to open her eyes. My friend sleeps at 11 PM and awakens at 4 AM and is working like a beaver before the sun is up. Another friend is done cooking her family’s many daily meals by 6 AM.
Me? Seven hours and 32 minutes is my sweet spot. A moment less, I am a zombie, and a moment more, well, I am ok with that.
All my life I have struggled with the fact that I need more than seven hours of sleep. The first time I became aware of it was in seventh class, when we learned about the Tsetse fly and I wondered if I was bitten by one when I was a baby, until I realised sleeping sickness is not necessarily requiring many more hours of sleep than my friends. During that crucial school leaving board-exam year, my friends burned the midnight incandescent bulb filament, while I studied my daily lessons because I could not compromise on my 7+ hours during exams. Succumbing to peer pressure, I once awoke at 4 AM and promptly fell asleep at my reading desk to the lulling sound of the Muezzin call from a distant mosque, to awaken at my usual time of 6.30 AM, my mathematics notes wet with drool.
The only time in my life that I was up all night was in my first year of grad school in the US, when the Indian student-body was staging a play for a Diwali bash, and I was up all night with friends, writing the script and recording my narration on a studio-scale recording machine that the friends bought from Sears the previous day, to be returned the next day after its work was done for a full refund, much to my moral indignance. I slept through the rest of my grad school to make up for it.
My need for the 7+ has been a constant source of anxiety and guilt. Between an orthodox TamBram family (refer brahma muhurtham earlier) and a Catholic convent upbringing (“Early to bed and early to rise…”, “the early bird …”***), I am constantly racked by guilt at not rising with the sun, who is an annoyingly early riser in these parts. My entire in-laws clan is alpa nidras (scanty sleepers) – I remember the first few days of my marriage that I stayed at their home, the entire household was buzzing with activity at 5 AM, and I was walking around in a daze and mildly bilious, and being judged a useless daughter-in-law. My only complaint against motherhood was the sleep deprivation through my daughter’s infant- and toddlerhood.
I was told that with age, one’s need for sleep would reduce. That’s true. I turned 49 last week, and compared to my 20s, I need less sleep. FOUR SECONDS LESS.
The point of this post? I got only five hours of sleep last night and can’t figure out how to end this post. I suppose the only solution is to just post it as it is, go to bed and count some z’s to make up for the 2 hours and 32 minutes that I lost, so that I am less of an undead for the rest of the day.
* Ref: “Corporate Samiyar”: On account of their patrons being middle aged professionals (usually IT), who earn more than they work for, and seek to assuage something in them by lining the pockets of the godmen to hear things they want to hear.
**Ref: “husband needing 4 hours of shuteye” : I advise my daughter that when she chooses her mate, instead of asking him of his interests, ambitions, family etc., she needs to ask him how long he needs to sleep and if he snores. Not that that should affect her decision, but these are things that one needs to be prepared for in cohabitation with a significant other.
*** Ref: “Early bird discipline in Catholic convent school”: I laughed like a maniac when I first saw this comic strip in my twenties.