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From the archive

Hovering in the hinterland of sleep

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

As human beings, says Jenny Diski in the London Review of Books, “our most persistent and irrational activity is to sleep”. Besides the danger that comes with giving up awareness and volunteering for paralysis, there’s also the not insignificant matter of time. They say a third of our lives is lost to shut-eye, “and that probably doesn’t take the afternoon nap into account”. Why haven’t scientists found a way of “abolishing the need for sleep”?

But I’m glad they haven’t – because sleeping “is and always has been my activity of choice”. Not sleep itself, but “the hinterland of sleep, the point of entry to unconsciousness”. My favourite early memories are of being stomach-down in bed, “drifting off. Moving off, away, out of mindfulness.” Nowadays, I try to extend my time in this “border territory of sleep”, dropping into a state “where all logic and reason disappears” while still retaining an awareness of “the strangeness I’ve achieved”. Then, of course, there’s the morning hypnagogia: “the compensation at the other end of sleep”. Coming to, slowly. “Hovering in hypnoland for as long as you can.” Carl Jung told a story in which he asks a patient to describe his day. “Well, I wake, get up and…” “Stop,” says Jung. “That’s where you’re going wrong.” I couldn’t agree more.