If you set aside the incomparable cruelty and stupidity of human beings, surely our most persistent and irrational activity is to sleep. Why would we ever allow ourselves to drop off if sleeping was entirely optional? Sleep is such a dangerous place to go to from consciousness: who in their right mind would give up awareness, deprive themselves of control of their senses, volunteer for paralysis, and risk all the terrible things (and worse) that could happen to a person when they’re not looking? As chief scientist in charge of making the world a better place, once I’d found a way of making men give birth, or at least lactate, I’d devote myself to abolishing the need for sleep. Apart from the dangers of letting your guard down, there’s the matter of time. Instead of trying to extend the life of human bodies beyond their cellular feasibility, the men and women in lab coats could be studying ways to retrieve all the time we spend asleep.
… Obviating the need to sleep would also take care of the second most absurd thing we do: wake up. You can buy an alarm clock advertised in one of those catalogues of marvellous necessities like LED digital-musical-weather-station-photo-frames and electronic nail-polish driers. The alarm clock is on all-terrain wheels. If you don’t immediately turn it off, it rolls off your bedside table and cruises around the bedroom beeping and flashing until there’s nothing for it but to get out of bed and chase it. Or there’s the airborne alarm clock which takes off from its base and flies around the room making a noise like an infuriated mosquito. Such extreme measures – which must contravene several health and safety regulations – suggest that waking up is not as popular as you might think coming round from unconsciousness would be.
… At any rate, that’s how I’d look at the subject if it weren’t for the fact that sleeping, for all its inherent dangers and waste, is and always has been my activity of choice. Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep. Actually, my speciality is not sleep itself, but the hinterland of sleep, the point of entry to unconsciousness. One of my earliest memories of sensual pleasure (though there must have been earlier, watery ones) is of lying on my stomach in bed, the bedtime story told, lights out (not the hall, leave the door open, no, more than that), the eiderdown heavy and over my head, my face in the pillow, adjusted so that I had just enough air to breathe.