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Sleep, from "Sleepless in Seattle," a movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

Subthemes: Circadian Rhythms, Insomnia, Malfunctions, Sex

Sleepless in Seattle stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in an endearing romantic comedy. The two get to know each other through a call-in program and email exchanges late at night, when they can’t sleep (or, eventually, don’t want to sleep). They surmount the inevitable entanglements that define a rom-com. From this endearing movie, we can explore several aspects of Sleep.

Here is a clip of Hanks opening up.

Circadian Rhythms: Both Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan were up and alert at the same time, despite time zone differences. Their circadian rhythms matched. By contrast, we all know night hawks and morning larks, and they are not birds of a feather! Most healthy adults settle into a daily rhythm of waking at about the same hour in the morning and slipping into bed around the same hour at night. Experiments have shown that people settle into roughly 24-hour cycles of one-third sleep and two-thirds awake, even when they have no external clues regarding time. Most of us need close to eight hours of sleep, although stories are told about people who regularly get by on only three or four hours; then there are others, especially as they grow very old, who sleep or nod off most of the day. Some people might scoff when others say they only need four to six hours of sleep each night, but for a percentage of the population, that’s the truth, says Dr. Allison Brager at Momentous. Regardless, each individual’s pattern and timing stay quite consistent.

The older we get, the more we sleep (or doze off for an afternoon nap. Because of the cycle of these internally scheduled periods of wakefulness and sleepiness, people whose work shifts vary dramatically (sometimes the day shift, sometimes the graveyard) suffer from the re-setting of their internal clocks. Anyone who endures a redeye flight knows the difficulty of recovering, especially as you age. Approximately one day per time zone shift is a rule of thumb to return to your normal rhythm.

Insomnia: Neither star of this romantic comedy suffer from bouts of not being able to fall asleep. However, nearly 70 million Americans are estimated to have a sleep disorder. Insomnia is the most common, with 30% of adults experiencing short-term insomnia; about 10% of people have long-lasting insomnia. The Recovery Village provides this background. The causes of insomnia vary: stress leads the way (such as if lions lurk, but noise and distractions, alcohol, medications, nightmares, and low-quality beds keep eyelids open. All artificial light, including LEDs, fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs, can disrupt normal sleep patterns. Self-help advice surrounds those who can’t fall asleep, such as sleeping pills, chamomile tea, soothing music, dark blinds, trained sheep, and bedtime rituals. For other unfortunates, they might slip into sleep readily, but waking at 3:00 AM and not quickly falling back to sleep plagues them.

The American Sleep Association warns about the steep cost of poor sleep, with about 1,600 deaths and 40,000 injuries attributed to drowsy driving each year. Almost 40% of people report accidentally falling asleep during the day. About 5% report falling asleep while driving. Additionally, a chunk of the 100,000 hospital deaths caused by medical errors each year can be blamed on sleep deprived residents, doctors, or nurses who make fatal mistakes.

Malfunctions: One of the most alarming malfunctions for sleepers is known as sleep walking. With no conscious awareness, people have been known to rise and walk for miles or fall off of porches while asleep. Other sleep disorders include insomnia, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy (an extreme tendency to fall asleep whenever in relaxing surroundings), and sleep apnea (waking suddenly because of a breathing irregularity). In the words of the Cleveland Clinic, these can harm safety, relationships, school and work performance, thinking, mental health and weight not to mention contributing to diabetes and heart disease. Not getting enough quality sleep can hurt your quality of life.

Sex: Beds are hardly just for sleeping, reading, and watching TV. They also stimulate procreating. Couples couple (coupulate?) before falling asleep. Expressions abound: “going to bed” with someone, “sleeping with someone”, or that someone is “good in bed.” Men often want nothing more than to roll over and fall asleep after coitus. Couples headed to the same bed presumably recognize and hopefully welcome the sexual activity that likely follows. To belabor the point, trying searching on the internet for “sex and beds” and you will find an abundance of advice regarding the most sensuous mattresses. Perhaps we can be excused for punning on pheromones that beds, sex and sleep are the Three Musketeers.

 

The movie has a title that fits the theme of Sleep. The leading actors are awake late at night, as insomnia disrupts their circadian rhythms (though no other sleep disorders crop up), and, as an inevitable frisson of romantic comedy, the outcome is likely to include pleasurable time in bed.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept Sleeping, consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, About.

We invite you to read about other movies discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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