Aroused by unrest in the slumber zone
Hot Docs: Wide Awake 10pm, SBS
IT’S 3am, the clock is tick- tocking, and you’ve suddenly woken from a fractured, faintly disturbing dream. You’re normally a good sleeper but the accumulated stresses of the past few weeks have taken their toll. You’re desperate to grab some shuteye so you’re equipped for the day ahead, but your mind is racing. You toss, you turn.
If you’re among the 70 per cent of Australians who occasionally have sleep problems, you’ll sympathise with this scenario. If you’re among the 5 per cent who are chronic insomniacs, this is a minor league disturbance likely to elicit a ‘‘ whatever’’. Most of us fall asleep within 10 to 15 minutes, but it can take an insomniac hours. Most people feel rejuvenated after a full night’s sleep, but an insomniac can go through a lifetime without knowing what it feels like to enjoy eight hours of consecutive kip.
A deep, peaceful night’s sleep is documentary maker Alan Berliner’s holy grail, and it forms the subject of tonight’s show. ‘‘ I have been tired all my life,’ the 47- year- old New Yorker moans. ‘‘ As soon as my head hits the pillow, my mind starts racing. Sometimes I hear music, usually a song I heard during the day.’’
On a good night, he’ll drop off just before dawn (‘‘ all my friends know not to call me before 11am’’).
Berliner should probably blame his old man because his mother, who appears in tonight’s show, has always been a good sleeper and recent studies show that the tendency to sleeplessness is inherited.
It seems insomniacs have brains that are genetically wired to stay on, which may explain why poor sleepers swell the ranks of the highly creative, from Groucho Marx and Franz Kafka to Marlene Dietrich and Margaret Thatcher.
Why we need to spend one- third of our lives sleeping is still a mystery. What we do know is that every living creature on the planet sleeps, and if they are forcibly deprived of it they go mad and die.
How much sleep is enough? If you get eight hours a night yet feel dull and sluggish throughout the day, chances are you need more; if you manage to stay bright and focused while you run a company on five hours’ sleep a night, you are probably getting enough for your needs.
If you suffer from a chronic sleep problem, this documentary won’t tell you anything you don’t know beyond good bedtime rituals, hot baths and meditation. But at least it’s a reminder that you are not alone.
Dreaming of sleep: Alan Berliner says he has been tired all his life