Macbeth murdered it with dire consequences; most people are deprived of it and while animals summon it with ease; it can be so evasive as to drive many to sickness and despair.
Sleep has become more precious than any financial parameter, surpassing the intrinsic value of time itself... considered the ultimate equation with money.
I have always been an eager sleeper if that is not an oxymoron. To preserve my sanity, I trained my children, who are triplets, from an early age to wake up as late as possible. This Herculean task was not executed without discomfort and a discipline which demanded unyielding nerves.
At 6 a.m. the indicator on the baby alarm swung erratically to and fro with sobs, shrieks and screams vociferously multiplied by 3. There was no way to desensitize myself other than self administer a general anaesthetic. I was swamped with guilt but I was also deliriously tired so I resulted to an act of desperation, I turned off the volume switch! Now I could visually gauge the babies' anguish but I couldn't hear it. This heartless approach was never adopted without a preliminary check, through a narrow opening of the door to ascertain, that the cause of the lachrymal outburst was anger or boredom and not physical pain. After about a week of this shock therapy, my children slept peacefully for another hour or so until assistance arrived and feeding routines were assumed.
Since then the triplets have always respected the restorative properties of sleep and take a short nap whenever possible.
This reposing interlude is solidly adhered to in Mediterranean countries. In fact the shops' timetable in Greece is programmed around the sun's daily progress. When it is hottest from 2 to 5.30 all the shops would close. Now Greece is less exotic and Levantine and the majority of stores open all day long but small stores still adhere to this program and all civil service offices stoutly close at 2 p.m. and do not open again!
The reverence for slumber follows some Greeks wherever they go. When visiting some very stuffy and antiquated aunts in New York with my mother long ago, they cheerfully informed us that an afternoon visit to their apartment in the Pierre Hotel was a definite possibility as they no longer slept in the afternoon.
Having tamed the nocturnal habits of three infants, I thought I had experience yet I am still challenged by taking care of the sleep requirements of the guests staying in our family run hotels.
Hotel chains worldwide compete to source the plumpest mattresses into which aching and exhausted bodies can sink, enfolded in comforting linens and supported by layers of foam and springs on which they can bounce for whatever reason or just plain slumber.
The recalcitrant outside world with its cacophonous intrusions must be stopped, muted, deterred ... Doormen are dispatched to patrol errant car alarms or noisy pavement loiterers, exuberant weddings (we do them fat and noisy here in Greece) must have an imposed curfew as do any other celebrations on roofs or in gardens and courtyards. This doesn't always work... some of the guests at our hotel in Corfu end up being welcomed into the event as an alternative to insomnia! I did the same thing at a competitor's hotel in Thessaloniki - throwing on a tracksuit and mixing a vodka and tonic from the mini bar at 2a.m., considering this the best option.
Some disturbances don't always have such felicitous outcomes. When I was a young and unsure research assistant for a biography of Maria Callas, I had an interview booked the next day with the notoriously tricky Rudolf Bing, director of the Metropolitan Opera. I was sharing a New York hotel suite with my older brother who tried in vain to sedate a raucous group of male guests next door for whom alcohol and vociferous outbursts were proving irresistible. Seven cups of herbal tea, fraternal assurances and earplugs pushed as far inside as my tympanum allowed, finally brought relief and the interview was successfully executed the next morning.
As a hotelier I have had to negotiate with neighboring night clubs, commissioning acoustical studies to diminish their noise level, bargain with municipal garbage collectors to alter their schedule and refrain for hurling the trash bags with accompanying expletives.
You are constantly having to soundproof doors and windows to block out that bawling baby or the late night movie viewer next door:
Once you finally get your guest to sleep, it's time to wake them up again and I have yet to find an alternative to the brutal automatic wake up call system. At the end of the month, the irony is that in our Athens hotel we shall be waking up clients to go to a sleep conference adjacent to the hotel!!!
Our world is of course the opposite of a biorhythmic Utopia where we go to bed when it becomes dark and cocooningly silent and wake unprompted in the morning. Instead we are disturbed by electromagnetic currents and electrical outlets whizzing in our ears and emitting noxious signals that will toast our brains.
In my house, I follow certain rituals to make my bed a place of rest and restoration. In my bedroom I don't use the phone or computer nor recharge them there. I read, preferably that anachronistic body of words called a book, my room has a chink of outdoor light and is always cool, faithful to my British upbringing which advocated sleeping in chilly surroundings! The devoted dogs are banned to the hallway outside where they shuffle and snore to each other and I am alone.
This routine works all too perfectly. My required eight hours manage to elasticize into nine and I always awake before the alarm clock screeches, usually refreshed ... and always a trifle guilty.
For our society equates snoozing with losing, repose with laziness. If we are up all night, it means we have been assiduous, addicted to our occupation, devoted to working our mind rather than sustaining our body and our being.
When the phone rings, I lie and say I was in the shower. In reality I deny its existence and wait semi-conscious until it stops ringing. I always smugly announce how the weather is at 7 a.m. because I am actually up to see it... an arrogant truth which omits mentioning that I sprint back to my bed as soon as departing children allow. Greece permits that, the diurnal routine not rumbling into place til mid morning. My dogs squint at me with disgust and then sigh themselves back into their baskets. The golden Mediterranean sun is out to warm the world and as it does so it melts my guilt away.
For Shakespeare and his hero Macbeth, sleep was "the balm of hurt minds, chief nourisher in life's feast."
It's time to stop your deprivation now.