EST. May 2000 (AD)


Popular Columns:

The 'Science' Behind Rest and Relaxation - What You Need to Know

What's better than sleeping? Don't even bother putting on your thought-amplifying science wig to answer that question. Sleep is just about the best thing in the world! Let's do a little thought experiment to prove this point. First of all, imagine your bed. Now, imagine your bed with cotton pillows and a satin quilt. Now imagine it with pillows made of soft, delicious ice cream and hundred dollar bills, and a quilt made of Ryan Reynolds holding a bottle of Kahlua. Ask yourself: is there anything more inviting than this?

No. The answer is no. And I think we should just take a moment to do that thought experiment again.

If I seem a little strange this week, apologies! It's all in the name of science. I've gone without sleep for three nights to perform a meta-experiment, allowing you, the reader - and all of the cheering Smurfs clustered around my keyboard - to monitor the effects of sleep deprivation on my mind. So, welcome to a doubly scientific Part IX of the 'Science Behind' series.

How much sleep does an average person need, and what happens if they don't get it?

It is estimated that the average person needs 6-8 hours of sleep a night. This is broken up into shorter cycles of light and deep sleep. The ordinary scientific commentator would say that if you don't get enough sleep, your brain will start to function more slowly: you may lose hand-eye co-ordination and suffer memory blanks and hallucinations.

But perhaps they're wrong. So far, all I've needed to keep me alert over the past three days is a self-created programme of regular exercise; light meals with plenty of complex carbohydrates; water; and these low-dose caffeine pills.

Although, now that I look closely at the packaging, it seems to say: 'Give to your puppy once a week - for the treatment of ear mites and ringworm'. But I hope that's a hallucination because I'd hate to have to stop trusting my dog. He definitely told me they were caffeine pills.

Don't you think that - never mind. How can I get a better night's sleep?

Here are some tips to combat insomnia. Remember to turn off the lights and music before you try and rest. Lay down before falling asleep. Ban salesmen and food vendors from setting up stalls in your room. Put out all house fires and usher away any roosting animals that may disturb your slumber. Invest in a hammock, futon, bed or other flat, softish thing. Sleep tight!

Are there any relaxation exercises that are scientifically proven to work?

Yes. Anyone can fight their daily stresses and strains by practising these exercises, which are designed to relax the body and quiet the mind. They can be done in the home or office.

For the exhausted new mother - an exercise in two parts

Part one

Make sure your feet are firmly planted shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms straight ahead of you. Remember to keep your knees slightly bent as you hand your baby or infant to someone else. Leave quickly.

Part two

Lay down on a mat on the floor, or on your sofa. Make sure your spine is straight and let your feet relax. Exhale and stick your tongue out. Put a marshmallow on it. Retract your tongue. Repeat for as long as possible, or until the marshmallows run out. If the knocking on your door gets too distracting, as the neighbour/concerned bystander/alarmed passerby frantically tries to return your offspring, turn up the TV. Don't let anyone - emergency services and persistent court officials included - interrupt this vital 'me time'.

For the frustrated office worker

In one fluid movement, push back your chair and stand up. Exhale loudly. Tell that idiot chairing the meeting that if he wants to drag this out any longer, he'll have to do it over your dead body. Turn and walk calmly towards the door. Open it and keep walking until you reach your home or somewhere you can lay down and eat marshmallows.

For the angry commuter

It's hot. The train is delayed and people are jostling you. Create a 'safe space' around you by dancing on the spot, frothing at the mouth and making gibbering noises. If people don't make way for you, engage them in conversation about demons. Remove your shoes and socks if necessary. When you have created sufficient space, lay down on the floor and eat marshmallows.

What is meditation and how can it help me to relax?

Meditation (from the Latin, medi meaning medium or middle-sized and tater meaning cubed or fried potato) is a process by which people sit very still for long periods of time. It is useful, for example, if you need to gain large amounts of weight quickly but you keep burning it off with the movement of living. As it just involves sitting around, and there's no 'thinking' aspect to meditation, you can do it while talking on the phone or reading a magazine. Easy!

Is it possible that - ?

Wait a minute. Why are you asking me all these questions?

We do this every month. Remember? It's our job.

No. Definitely not. I would certainly remember if I had a job. For a start, I wouldn't be living off crackers and Vicks Vapour Rub, and sleeping in a cupboard, would I? Anyway, how do I know you're not just another voice in my head? And what do you know about the monkey police?

The - ? That's it. I can't work like this. We're done here. Science is over. And you can put those ringworm pills down too.

Fun rest and relaxation facts

Lack of sleep can cause paranoia.

But then, I would say that, wouldn't I?

Remember: the monkey police are always watching.


© 2008 Emma Rowley

Drop Emma a line!
Replace X with @ in address line please.



Emma Rowley is a Londoner. Maybe that's why she loves London Town.