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Perchance to dream?

Oct 09, 2016

There’s a cartoon character called Charlie Brown who appears in the Peanuts comic strip, which was created by the often mordant Charles M Schulz. I recall, on one particular occasion when Charlie Brown said: ‘Sometimes I lie awake at night and I ask myself: where did it all go wrong?’ Then a voice says to me ‘I’m afraid this is going to take longer than just the one night!’ 

There’s a time during the early hours of the morning – usually about 4:00 am – when pervasive thoughts can really haunt you and everything will seem exaggeratedly vivid. During this time, good things appear better and bad things always appear far worse. I’m sure that this phenomenon is familiar to all of us – it certainly is to me.  

During these times of early solitude (or late depending upon how you look at it), I’ve virtually re-invented the wheel. I’ve formulated ideas and plans that are so exceptional that I can hardly get back to sleep; or even want to, come to that. I’ve written reports and composed music in my mind, and the whole experience has just been so absolutely damn exhilarating that  I don’t even want to go back to sleep, I just want to lay awake and luxuriate in my new idea. In fact, sometimes, I’ve even metaphysically written some of these articles, often accompanied only by the waning moon and the distant screech of a lonely vixen (oh, and my wife’s gentle snoring).     

Of course in the very nature of things, the moment that you decide that you don’t want to go to sleep, what happens? Yes, you’ve got it - you go straight back to sleep. Before you know where you are, you are subjected to the intrusion of that necessary, but much hated, alarm clock (that rings a bell! - well actually it buzzes these days now I come to think about it).  As you drag yourself from your very comfortable but extremely untidy bed, and as the familiar world slowly returns, over the hustle of breakfast you hardly give a thought to that truly amazing idea which you formulated at around 4:00 am.   

Personally, I often refer to this time as ‘the dramatic time’. I’m not a restless sleeper and, thankfully, I don’t wake much during the night these days; but there is another side of the coin here. This can be a time of the night when thoughts can become too invasive. A psychiatrist once remarked that, when it comes to sleeplessness, there is no point in blaming insomnia because it’s troubled thoughts that keep you awake.  

Anyone who has had any degree of responsibility or who has owned their own company will be eminently familiar with that experience of lying there willing the darkness to show us a vision. Very few people involved in business these days are entirely free of some degree of worry. What with ever increasing rules relating to health and safety, employment, tax liabilities, a plethora of seemingly counter-productive legislation and of course not forgetting that old favourite: ‘Cash Flow’, it’s really not surprising. 

An old boss of mine used this process to his advantage when he kept a note book by the side of his bed and would write down anything that had come to him during the ‘dramatic hours’. He also used to keep one in the toilet as well (true!), but that’s another story. We would actually dread the mornings, when we would be called into his office where he would then produce his note book - thankfully the one which he kept by his bed - and then we would be informed of some change which he wished to make within the company.  

I don’t suppose there is any particular moral to this story apart from just try to get a good night’s sleep. A recent study by John Hopkins University in Baltimore concluded that there was a difference between sleep that is long but interrupted and sleep that’s short and sound. As you might guess, it’s better for the brain to sleep for a shorter number of uninterrupted hours than a longer number of fitful hours. It also found that almost 60% of really successful people were normally awake and getting up by 5:30 am. Maybe they do this so that any thoughts created during the ‘dramatic time’ are still fresh in the mind. Maybe Shakespeare’s Hamlet had it right when he emoted: "To sleep perchance to dream!" 

Perhaps another suggestion is to make sure that you have a really comfortable bed. The other day the lady wife and I were discussing whether or not we should buy a new mattress. We couldn’t quite make up our minds at the time - so we decided to sleep on it. 

And finally, it’s worth remembering that you have to dream before your dreams can come true. 

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