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By Scott Roeben

I could use some sleep. No matter how much I get, I could use more. My life has been a series of periods of sleep interrupted by naps.

We spend a third of our lives asleep, you know. Conductors for Amtrak apparently sleep even more than that, but most of us sleep away an entire third of our too-brief lives. That is a lot of time to spend unconscious.

Older people sleep less, of course. That is because they need the extra time awake to describe more vividly their growths and ingrown body parts.

But on average, we're under for eight hours a day. We have a lot to do during that time span, though. Namely, we dream. You often hear the term R.E.M. associated with dreaming. R.E.M. is indicated by a drastic widening of the eyes when you see the price of one of their concert tickets.

It was once thought that humans dream only in monochrome. This is not the case. Unless you are dreaming about a black-and-white movie, and then, I guess, the dream would be in black-and-white.

Some people do not believe that they dream at all. These people are not entirely wrong. They are laughably wrong. Everyone dreams. Some people may not remember their dreams, but everyone has four to six dreams every night. Interestingly, for men the frequency of dreams seems to increase dramatically after receipt of the Victoria's Secret catalogue.

Despite what you might think, by the way, you experience a dream in real time, and the average dream lasts 20 minutes. Actually, 12 minutes after taxes.

There are those who believe that dreams have deep implications for the waking parts of our lives. Sigmund Freud gained great notoriety for his theories about dreams. Freud believed that every image in a dream is symbolic of something else. His student Jung, however, disagreed and supported his position by stating: "Freud is a dork. Besides, how can you take seriously the postulations of a man who wears a beard that obviously does not suit the shape of his face?"

Modern psychologists have delved into more readily observable aspects of sleep, such as sleeping positions. It has been suggested the position we sleep in can say a lot about our psychological state. The following are examples:

Position #1: On back.

Nothing. This means nothing. Now, please leave me alone so I can get some shuteye.

Position #2: On side.

Nothing, believe me. It means nothing. Now, go away. I mean it.

Position #3: On stomach.

For the last time. Scram, or I'm going to punch you so hard, your dog will yelp.

Position #4: Fetal position.

God, it's cramped in here. Still, it means absolutely nothing.

A little-known sidenote about dreams is that the dreams of the congenitally blind contain no visual elements. This fact is not particularly amusing, but I get a kick out of using the word congenitally for some reason.

In competition for our time spent sleeping are nightmares. Why are they called that? In some cultures it was once believed that evil spirits like mahrs in Germany, Mora in Slavic countries and IRS agents in America came to people in the night and attacked them, often putting liens on their homes. These night mahrs or night Moras gave rise to our term "nightmare." IRS agents gave rise to our term "bottom-feeders."

Much thought and study has been devoted to sleep and the problems surrounding sleep. I can only hope that these tidbits will not result in your nodding off right now.

• Leonardo da Vinci invented an alarm clock which woke the sleeper by gently rubbing his or her feet.

Meconomancy is the practice of divining the future through sleep. Somehow, I knew I was going to write that.

• The fear of sleep is called hypnophobia, a condition most acute in the wives of Sumo wrestlers.

• The Filipino word for sleep is túlog. In the Philippines, sleep is seen mostly as an economical way to keep days from slapping noisily into each other.

• Charles Dickens was an insomniac. He believed that he had the best chance of getting some sleep if he positioned himself exactly in the middle of the bed which must at all times be pointed in a northerly direction.

• Saint Vitus is known as Patron against oversleeping.

• Narcolepsy is a disorder where victims suffer frequent "sleep attacks." There is no cure. The same can be said for the House of Representatives, coincidentally. Signs of narcolepsy include "hypnagogic hallucinations," which experts claim can be simulated by licking certain frogs.

• Complex legal guidelines are created to protect our sleep. In Berkeley, California, you can't whistle for an escaped bird before 7 a.m. In San Antonio, Texas, you can't honk a horn, run a generator, have a revival meeting or do anything else that disturbs the neighborhood, and the city has a four-member noise police squad to enforce the law. In Tryon, N.C., it's against the law for anyone to keep "fowl that shall cackle," or for anyone to play the piccolo between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.

• It takes approximately four hours to go to sleep after your last cup of coffee. In some restaurants, it will take you approximately four months to pay your credit card bill for that cup of coffee.

• In Washington state it is illegal to sleep in an outhouse without the owner's permission.

• Prehistoric man adapted the pattern of sleeping at night (in caves usually) because it protected him from animals (predators) physiologically suited to function well in the dark. This connection might explain some of Man's propensity for grunting and drooling in bed in modern times. It's just a theory.

Hypnagogic myoclonus is that jerk we feel as we are dozing off. Unless you are Jane Fonda, then the jerk you feel is Ted Turner.

All in all, there are few things as satisfying as placing your head on a soft pillow at the end of the day, drifting off to that mysterious world where we can fly, or talk to dead people, or tapdance even though we have all the grace of a bison.

Sleep is a refuge. Something everyone has in common. Like a vehement dislike for the French.


© Scott Roeben, 1999, 2000. All rights reserved.