The Sleepy Countryside…


Just been away to the deepest Yorkshire moors for a few days [a lo-tech place, hence the quietness around here] and it set me thinking again about the importance of sleep.

It was some time ago now that I got interested in why sleep was vital, and what actually happened when we slept. Strangely, I had a dream in which a theory came to me:

Huxley and others began talking about the ‘doors of perception’ years ago, and it’s pretty clear that our brains are sensing and taking in more information than we are actually conscious of. We give our concentration to some sight, some page of text, and the sounds of the street fade into the background. But our ears don’t stop hearing.

My idea was that sleep was the brain’s time to ‘post-process’ all of this information and make some sort of sense of it. Being the horizontal/networked beast that it is, this information is not simply archived by date or type, but assimilated into the continuous fabric of ‘me’. Our dreams are perhaps ‘visual’ representations of this process at work: a cross-referencing of images and sensed information, our brains making connections to other experiences and memories… hence the extraordinary nature of our dreams as concoctions of fantasies, memories, thoughts and… crazy stuff.

If we don’t get enough sleep, our brains don’t get the ‘down time’ to do this post-processing, horizontally-complex work, and thus become less effective. And it’s as we sleep that strange connections are made between ideas we thought had no link – hence the ‘eureka’ moments that so often come in the night, or just after sleep.

It’s probably medical nonsense, but as I mulled in the beauty of the moors the last few days, I thought that being in such places serves the same sort of function: they allow us space and time to process stuff we just don’t have time to with the sensory overload of the city. The classic idea of the ‘retreat’ is not simply to get away from it all, but to take it all with you and do some ‘post-processing’ so that those eureka moments can come.

I wrote an article on this for arguing that we really must give proper time in our organisations for them to ‘sleep’ – to just think things over and let newness come.

You can read it here.


3 responses to “The Sleepy Countryside…”

  1. Dana Ames

    Nope, it’s not medical nonsense. New research shows that the rest of the body is affected on a chemical level, especially in terms of processing fuel to make energy- diabetic conditions are worsened or even hastened by sleep deprivation. Inability to breathe freely while sleeping (apnea) resulting in less REM sleep can lead to heart problems.
    We are a Unity.

  2. I think you’re spot-on in thinking that dreaming can help us make connections that our conscious minds wouldn’t make, but which are extremely helpful. When I’ve got a really complicated problem in which I need to make sense of tons of data — more than I could consider consciously at once — there’s little I can do that’s more productive than a 25-minute power nap, sometimes on top of ten hours of sleep in a night, and normally I’m on the insomniac side. I often have a dream in which someone appears and verbally tells me some new direction I should think about, or even exactly what I’ve been trying to come up with and haven’t quite been able to put my finger on. Oddly enough, I have a stock set of recurring characters, none of whom I know in waking life, who sometimes even interrupt dreams in progress to tell me something I should think about, even to the point at which, when I see that ten-year-old boy with the light brown hair walking toward me in a dream, I know I’m about to hear something that I should write down as soon as I wake up.

  3. I love the sound of those recurring characters! Sounds like Linklater should get on to you for some ‘Waking Life’ style action!
    I also have those sort of moments, and hence have to keep a notebook by the bedside.
    What interests me more is how organisations can exploit the same principles. It strikes me that we spend too much of our time in institutions ‘doing’, and that periods of corporate ‘sleep’ – call it jubilee, retreat, whatever – are more important than we realise, and certainly more important than the typically annual ‘church weekend away’, which is generally a time for more input from a visiting speaker anyway…