Aroused by un­rest in the slum­ber zone

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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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.

Greg Cal­laghan

Dream­ing of sleep: Alan Ber­liner says he has been tired all his life

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