When God was handing out gifts, I was apparently nodding off.
"Hey -- thou on the back row -- I give thee the gift of slumber," he must have said.
OK, so sleeping is not as exciting as the gift of gab or the gift of a genius IQ. But it's all I've got -- unless you count the highly underrated gift of rhythmic finger tapping. (If Hollywood ever needs somebody to play Gregory Hines as a finger puppet, I'm their guy.)
Simply stated, I can sleep on demand. Some people toss and turn; I stop, drop and snore.
I have known about my gift of sleep for many years. When I was a kid, my parents would go visit their friends, Carl and Norene, on a farm near Spring Hill, Tenn. Within 30 minutes of arriving I would be curled up on the floor, unconscious, drooling on Norene's off-white, wall-to-wall carpeting.
I once went to sleep in church during the second verse of "Onward Christian Soldiers" -- which, with a little beat box, could actually be a rap song.
Not to brag, but I make Rip Van Winkle look like an insomniac. I star in instructional videos to teach restless bears how to hibernate.
But enough bragging about my sleep prowess. What got me thinking about it was a headline in the Wall Street Journal last week: "Search for the Best Sleepers."
"At last," I thought, "gifted sleepers are getting their props."
The article reported that researchers are hunting for people who get by on six hours or less of sleep with no significant hangover effect. Apparently, about 1 percent of the population falls into this subset of short sleepers, and they tend to be energetic and positive people who never get grouchy. (Only in America do we invite efficiency experts into our bedrooms in the name of science. It's not like we all need a couple of more hours a day to answer office emails, right?)
Still, most of us need eight to 10 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep to ensure peak performance, experts say. This adds up to about one-third of our lifetimes, so it seems worth trying to do it right.
Here are some helpful hints from a true sleep expert.
• Enjoy your dreams. In my dreams, I get in lots of fights and have an assortment of super powers. I'm the Chuck Norris of the dream world. I have all these mixed martial arts moves, spinning back kicks and wicked submission holds. Everywhere you look in my dreams bad guys are bawling.
It helps that my dream self can fly a little bit -- not like Superman, but more like LeBron James. If you need somebody to beat up a bully or do a windmill dunk on your boss at the office three-on-three tournament, Dream Mark is your man.
• Listen to white noise. My wife and I have a little plug-in noise machine in our bedroom that plays a continuous loop of the sound of ocean waves lapping against a beach. If you can't afford a white-noise machine, glue seashells to your head.
Also, having your wife turn on a Lifetime Network movie staring Jennifer Love Hewitt has a profound knock-out effect on most men.
• Lock your bedroom doors. If there's one thing that will absolutely destroy your sleep cycle, it's little kids who show up in the middle of the night and want to climb into bed with you. Don't allow it. They will immediately position themselves perpendicular to the two parents -- forming a human "H" -- and commence grape-stomping your sternum.
• Stop snoring. This is easier said that done. I tried special neck-cradling pillows and those little adhesive strips that are supposed to make your nostrils flare -- and I still snorted like California Chrome with a head-cold.
The only thing that stopped my snoring was losing a ton of weight, which is like removing a wad of Silly Putty from your throat.
Any questions? ... No?
Good, because it's my nap time.
Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...