As a Slumber Artist, I'm Pretty Much a Disaster

Today I begin a month-long expedition into the murky underworld of sleep, but before I push off into that shadowy frontier — and before you agree to interactively follow — there's something I want you to know: as a slumber artist, I'm pretty much a disaster. I know what sleep's supposed to look like. It's supposed to look like what happens to my wife each night: She crawls under the covers, fluffs her pillow just right and in moments, drowsy bliss comes bounding to her like a faithful St. Bernard.

But sleep for me is a wayward thing, more like an indifferent feline who curls up on my chest only when it suits her. If you've ever stared patiently at one of those Magic Eye photos, in which the damn prancing unicorn refuses to appear, you know how it feels to be me, tossing and turning through the empty hours, hoping the fog of sleep will sooner or later drift my way. Even when I do nod off my slumber is shallow and unrefreshing. I sleep in fits and starts. I have disconcerting dreams that leave me frazzled and out of sorts. I wake achy and wasted, to stumble fuzzy-headed through my days. It often takes me three tries to dial long-distance. I can't remember names. I drink washtubs of coffee. I tend to look like hell. Like I said, I'm no champion sleeper.

But if my slumber woes have given me more than a weary countenance and a cranky point of view, they've blessed me with a deep sense of wonder regarding the mysterious Land of Nod, and filled my head with questions that might never occur to the more well-rested among you. For example: Can anyone explain what kind of biochemical sorcery bubbles up in our brains each night to make the cold cruel world just go away? Where, exactly, do our minds go when we doze? Is sleep the absence of thought or just a different way of thinking?

And why is it so hard to remember your dreams? Speaking of dreams, what the heck are they? If these spontaneous hallucinations popped in on us during waking hours, we'd all be downing Thorazine like it was Pez, but since they visit us only when we're dozing, we shrug them off without a second thought. So, where do they come from? What do they mean? Do they reveal dark urges, as Freud insisted? Could omens and portents be involved? Or, are they nothing more than a dumping ground for cognitive nonsense — the brain's way of taking out the neurological trash?

For the next 35 days, these questions will guide me as I crisscross the continent, boldly questing for answers to the riddle of sleep. I'll visit a prominent sleep lab where, with any luck, the roots of my slumber problems will be unraveled. I'll consult with pioneering researchers who'll help me interpret my strangest dreams. I'll investigate the phenomenon of Lucid Dreaming — the ability to vividly control the action of your nightly dream show — and learn to launch my own dream-time adventures. And I'll confer with "sleep hygiene" experts, who will offer lots of nuts-and-bolts advice on sleeping soundly, while revealing the surprising ways in which your mattress, your pillows, even a bad pair of pj's, can ruin the quality of your sleep.

Think of me as your agent in the field, your groggy guide through the wilderness of slumber. Together we'll shed some light on the shadowland of Sleepy Town. Let's just hope that light's not so bright as to keep me up all hours.