As research for my current project, a book on the spirituality of sleep, I arranged a visit to the Sleep Clinic in Parry Sound, an hour’s drive north of where I live.
Prior to my visit I had to fill out a 35-page form including questions such as:
1) Have you ever had unusual feelings inside or on your body?
2) When laughing or becoming glad or angry, have you ever noticed your mouth opening?
3) Do you sleep better following sexual intercourse?
Needless to say, I answered yes to all three.
Upon arrival at the clinic I settled in to my very basic room—a kind of monk’s cell with spartan hospital furnishings, flourescent lighting, and a single bed with an unaccountably tall, elaborate headboard. Here I had some supper, read, and prayed until eight o’clock when the technician, a young man named Vikram, entered with a clipboard.
“Sir,” he said, “what time would you like to go to sleep?”
Normally awake until one o’clock, thinking I was making a generous concession I replied, “How about midnight?”
Vikram shot me a look that could have curdled whiskey. “Sir,” he said sternly, “you came here to sleep. Shall I put you down for 10:30?”
Taken aback, I answered meekly, “Alright.”
At ten Vikram returned to plaster me with electrodes, twenty in all, on legs, shoulders, and scalp. I cracked some jokes which Vikram rewarded with not even a chuckle. A taciturn, no-nonsense fellow, his mouth did not open once. Maybe he hadn’t had sex lately? His coup de grâce was to equip me with a plastic nasal cannula, something I hadn’t anticipated. Normally I blow my nose a couple of times in the night. Not tonight, I guess.
“And what happens in the morning?” I ventured to ask. “Do I just wake up whenever?”
To which Vikram responded, like a parent to a troublesome child, “We’ll discuss that later.”
We never did.
And so, wired to the gills (difficult for a side-sleeper, having to turn back and forth) and watched over by machines of loving grace, I hit the sack. Uncharacteristically, I lay awake for an hour, but then surprised myself by sleeping soundly for four hours straight. Then, in order to go to the bathroom, I had to call Vikram to unplug me. Walking down the brightly lit hallway with all my wires, I felt like a cyborg.
Back in bed, I was fully awake, and after an hour I knew that was it—no more sleep tonight. Fortunately I felt extremely peaceful, with that deep presence of God which sometimes comes at night. Better than sleep.
At 6:30 Vikram snapped on the lights. He must have been a morning person because he actually asked me, “How did you sleep?” and we had a little chat. I wanted to know what the proper term was for his profession, and he told me he was a ‘polysomnographologist.’ I said I’d never met one of those. (Polysomnography is the monitoring and recording during a person’s sleep of various parameters such as brain activity, breathing, and limb movements. Produces a polysomnogram.)
After breakfast I did some reading, then settled in for the day’s routine. At a sleep clinic it’s not just nighttime sleep they want to monitor, but naps, so I was assigned four twenty-minute naps spaced two hours apart. The hope was that I’d go to sleep, but I didn’t; I just lay on my back and enjoyed times of contemplative prayer, much as I do at home.
Finally, late afternoon, I was released, well pleased with my little spiritual retreat, and very happy to have survived a night with the wires.
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