This happens to me every year: I sleep my head off in January. I wake up and it has rolled off during the night, usually under the bed, and I am so heavy with the remnants of lassitude that it takes me half an hour to reach down, scoop it up and screw it back on. I exaggerate, it probably only takes me ten minutes to shed the scraps of sluggishness and recapitate. It was M. who introduced me to the idea of headless sleep – or perhaps I knew of it already and she reminded me – but she is the one who gave me permission for stupefying, restorative, deadweight sleeps, long sleeps without ill judgement or disapprobation. Never from her have I witnessed a critical twitch of the wrist to check the time or have I heard her utter censorious words such as, ‘Are you only up now?’ Instead, she is more likely to say: ‘Good girl yourself! Clearly you needed to sleep your head off. That’ll stand you in good stead for what’s left of the day.’
Over Christmas, co-habiting as I was with an assortment of generations to whom I am related, I witnessed many heads rolling around the house of a morning (or of an early afternoon). I quickly learned that we all have a different slumber number. Neat, eh? It’s a catchy name for the number of clocking-out hours one’s body requires at nightime. It varies from person to person; fluctuates (for me at any rate) according to season, age, conscience, Santa visiting, dreams had, nightmares visited, noisy neighbours, etc. – they are innumerable factors affecting one’s slumber number. Generally, though, we have our given level, our individualised slumber number, which may or may not be the popularised eight hours – we don’t all wear the same size of shoe, do we? This eight-hours a night, it seems, is not a magic formula, yet it seems to have been embraced along with eight cups of water and 10,000 steps a day. The basis for walking 10,000 steps was recently de-bunked for me when I read about one of the early manufacturers of the pedometer, a Japanese firm, who is said to have chosen 10,000 as the magic number to us to strive for simply because, in the Japanese character, 10,000 looks a little like a stick man walking. Not that I’m saying 10,000 steps isn’t a good thing, I’m certain that when I do it, it helps me meet my slumber number. It’s just that when it comes to steps, sleep, and sups of water, we are all individualised machines needing different levels of attention and service.
However, I did struggle to be as broadminded as M. over the holidays when G., on consecutive mornings, emerged from his sleep chamber three hours before sunset. Granted, we were far north, it was late December and it gets dark before 4pm, but nevertheless! G. looked like he had donned someone else’s head when he eventually clattered down the stairs – at any rate, it was not a head for communication. I hasten to add, G. is 14 years old and so his slumber number might be hitting an all-time hormonal high. ‘Aren’t you worried about him getting bedsores?’ I asked his dad when I discovered that G. was matching his slumber number to his age. ‘Growing takes a lot of sleep,’ his dad explained to me, ‘and isn’t it peaceful when he is in bed?’ He had a good point.
Don’t fret about your slumber number, there’s no point in losing your head over it, but if you do sleep your head off, remember to fix it back on your shoulders in the morning.
A Child Half-Asleep, by Tony Connor
Stealthily parting the small-hours silence,
a hardly-embodied figment of his brain
comes down to sit with me
as I work late.
Flat-footed, as though his legs and feet
were still asleep.
He sits on a stool,
staring into the fire,
his dummy dangling.
Fire ignites the small coals of his eyes.
It stares back through the holes
into his head, into the darkness.
I ask him what woke him?
‘A wolf dreamed me’ he says.