Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Can I Enjoy a Good Night's Sleep?

I've been wondering recently whether it is possible to enjoy a good night's sleep, or to enjoy sleeping at all.

Here's the problem: It seems that in order to enjoy something, I have to be conscious while it is taking place. I enjoy a film only if I experience a film. I enjoy a good meal only if I experience a meal. If I do not consciously experience these events, it seems I can't enjoy them.

However, there is something unusual about enjoyment: I can enjoy things that haven't happened yet and things that already happened. The first we call anticipation and the second we call remembering (or reminiscing). So when I enjoy a good meal, I can enjoy three things: I can anticipate how the meal will be and my eating it (my mouth may even water as I imagine it), I can experience the meal in all its goodness, and I can remember enjoying the meal (I may even recreate the tastes and smells).

Turning to sleep, even if I can't experience (consciously) sleeping, I can still anticipate sleeping. (I'm not sure that I can remember sleeping, since in order to recall it, it seems that I would have to have been conscious the first time through). I don't think that when people say they enjoy sleeping, though, they mean the anticipation of sleeping. And I don't think they mean remembering sleeping. But it does still seem right somehow to say that I enjoy sleeping or I enjoy getting a good night's sleep, doesn't it?

Here's my suggestion as to what is going on. Another kind of appreciation that we have (a kind of appreciation I think can be classified as enjoyment) is appreciation of a thing as constitutive of a larger whole. I can enjoy a tragic death in a novel not because I enjoy tragic deaths but because I can enjoy how the tragedy fit into the novel as a whole - how it made that novel better. I can also enjoy a meal as a part of a well-lived life. I can appreciate having a body that needs food, and the wonderful ways that people work toward making that experience as enjoyable as possible. I can appreciate having the opportunity to eat for pleasure's sake as well as for need's sake. I can take enjoyment from the role that eating a good meal has in my life as a whole. And this is what I think we enjoy when we enjoy a good night's sleep. We enjoy the way we feel refreshed afterwards, we can appreciate those hazy moments at the edge of consciousness when we realize we can fall back asleep for another hour, and we can find joy in going to sleep after a full day well lived. So even if it's not possible to enjoy sleep as it is happening, I can still enjoy sleep in a way that goes beyond anticipation and remembering. I enjoy the role that getting a good night's sleep plays in my life as a whole.

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