By Mordechai Schmutter
How do you fall asleep at night?
Do you find yourself lying awake and listening to the sounds that your house makes that for some reason it only makes in the dark? The sound of car alarms setting each other off? The sound of snoring?
Um, I don’t snore.
If you answered “yes,” then I have good news for you, in the form of a revolutionary scientific study that comes from Chessington World of Adventure. Chessington World of Adventure, if you couldn’t tell from the name, is not a sleep clinic. It’s actually a theme park and zoo located in the UK.
Chessington also has a safari-themed hotel, so that guests can sleep in what feels like an actual African jungle that has bathrooms and room service, except that the hotel is way more expensive, unless you count plane tickets to Africa.
According to a Reuters article, Chessington commissioned a study to determine what would help their guests fall asleep the fastest, because any theme park where you’re lying in bed for hours and not sleeping is a theme park where you’re not up and out of bed and waiting in line for things.
Everyone has their own method of falling asleep, though some take longer than others. My method is to lie down, and then . . . Well, that’s it. I lie down. Before I can employ any methods, I’m out like a light. I don’t even necessarily have to be lying down. Sometimes I could be sitting on a chair. It doesn’t even have to be a comfortable chair. I’m not even sure it has to have a back. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I generally don’t go to bed until about three hours after I’d like to. So this study wasn’t really for people like me. I’m pretty sure I can fall asleep while standing in line for things.
But some people, and I don’t want to mention my wife’s name, take a bit longer to fall asleep, which means they’re going to wake up blaming me for it, like there’s a certain amount of sleep to go around, and I’m using all of it up.
But it’s not just my wife. A lot of people have trouble falling asleep. I think it could have something to do with our lifestyle. In the old days, people went to sleep when it got dark. Nowadays, thanks to technology, we can b’H work until ungodly hours of the night, and then the next day we’re tired, so we drink coffee. Then we can’t fall asleep that night, because we didn’t have our coffee in a precise measured amount that would keep us awake until the exact time of night that we wanted to stop working. No, we had a ginormous cup of coffee, large enough to lose a bagel in, so we could be as wide awake as possible throughout the very last step of our project, and as soon as that was done, we bounced up to bed. And then we lie there, wide awake, until the morning Shema, and the next day we don’t have the option of sleeping late to make up for it, so we drink another tub of coffee.
Do I have a better idea? No, I’m just here to complain. But my point is that we have deadlines and schedules, and we don’t pay attention to our bodies until it’s dark and the house is quiet aside from the groaning and snoring noises.
I said I don’t snore. If I snored, wouldn’t I be the first to know?
Right. Because we all pay attention to our bodies. Look at how we deal with our kids. We put them to bed at eight o’clock, and they run around until at least nine. So the next night, we put them to bed at seven. And guess what? They run around until nine! Their bodies aren’t telling them how long to run around, they’re telling them what time to go to sleep.
The reason we lie awake, experts say, is that we’re thinking about what happened today and what we have to do tomorrow, and “Honey, what do you think my sister meant when she said . . . Honey?”
But the best scientific advance we’ve had to combat this until now, besides for drugs that work to counteract the drugs you take to stay awake, has been counting sheep.
People have been counting sheep for years. Why sheep? I don’t know. I think it has to be an animal where you don’t become alarmed when there are an increasing number of them.
“Wait. 128 squirrels?”
I don’t know how the sheep thing got started. Maybe people were finding shepherds passed out in pastures while their sheep ran amok.
“How many sheep got loose?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, how many did you have to begin with?”
“I don’t know! How do you think I fell asleep?”
Does counting sheep actually work, though? I think it’s just a myth. I tried it a few times, back when I was a kid and had an early bedtime, and I generally lasted about 15 sheep before I get bored and started thinking about my day again.
Studies show that fewer than 1 in 10 adults find it effective to count sheep. And I know why. As a parent and teacher, I can’t see it being calming or relaxing at all. I’m not going to picture the sheep lining up nicely and jumping over the fence one at a time. I’m going to picture having to run after them, scooping them up, trying to get them to stand still, and, “Okay, where’s your brother? And what happened to my list?” And in the end I’m just going to be more tired than when I started. And then I’ll fall asleep. So I guess it should work.
So this study, commissioned by Chessington, says that people actually fall asleep quicker while listening to semi-repetitive natural sounds. The study involved piping animal noises, such as lions roaring and monkeys calling, into their safari-themed hotel rooms. I’m guessing they did this with a fairly regular rhythm and kept the reins on the volume control. They didn’t just suddenly, in the middle of the night, blast out a lion’s roar, and have all the guests sit bolt upright in their beds.
“One thing these noises do is stop intrusive thoughts,” says John Schneerson, president of the British Sleep Society.
To which I’ve got to ask: There’s a sleep society? That’s a real thing? When I was a teenager, and I would fall asleep at every opportunity, my father always asked if I was president of the sleep society. But apparently, they already have a president. I totally missed my calling.
It also helps, experts say, if it’s a natural noise, or at least an artificial noise pretending to be a natural noise. As opposed to what you do now, which is fall asleep to car horns and sirens. The whole idea is kind of like those natural-sounds alarm clocks that are designed, according to the packaging text, “to wake you slowly and peacefully.” And now they’re saying that those very same sounds put you to sleep. How does the clock know which one it’s doing? You think your body, which is not smart enough to realize you’ve been trying to fall asleep for the last few hours, will realize that the very same alarm clock sounds that help you wake up are also supposed to help you go to sleep?
But that’s the current trend—natural sounds. Because in the old days, that’s how they fell asleep—to lions roaring.
“Is that a lion in the distance, or right outside our tents?”
“I don’t know. Go to sleep.”
Yes, natural noises—like horses galloping, and thunder cracking, and babies crying. And yes, I can fall asleep to babies crying. But my wife can’t, and all of a sudden that’s my fault. What do these women want?
So I don’t know if it works. Either way, it’s nothing to lose sleep over.
No offense. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.