The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation XVIII.


THOUGH some men be organized that they may be said not to sleep, yet the great necessity of the want of sleep is well defined as is hunger or thirst. The advanced sentinels of the army used often to sleep though they filled their eyes with snuff.


Sleep is a physical condition, during which man separates himself from external objects by the inactivity of his senses, and has only a mechanical life.

Sleep, like night, is preceded and followed by two twilights. The one leads to inertion, the other to activity.

Let us seek to elucidate these phenomena.

When sleep begins, the organs of the senses fall almost into inactivity. Taste first disappears, then the sight and smell. The ear still is on the alert, and touch never slumbers. It ever warns us of danger to which the body is liable.

Sleep is always preceded by a more or less voluptuous sensation. The body yields to it with pleasure, being certain of a prompt restoration. The soul gives up to it with confidence, hoping that its means of fiction will he retempered.

From the fact of their not appreciating this sensation, savants of high rank have compared sleep to death, which all living beings resist as much as possible, and which even animals show a horror of.

Like all pleasures, sleep becomes a passion. Persons have been known to sleep away three-quarters of their life. Like all other passions it then exerts the worst influences, producing idleness, indolence, sloth and death.

The school of Salernum granted only seven hours to sleep without distinction to sex or age. This maxim was too severe, for more time is needed by children, and more should, from complaisance, be granted to women. Though whenever more than ten hours is passed in bed there is abuse.

In the early hours of crepuscular sleep, will yet exists. We can rouse ourselves, and the eye has not yet lost all its power. Non omnibus dormio, said Mecenes, and in this state more than one husband has acquired a sad certainty. Some ideas yet originate but are incoherent. There are doubtful lights, and see indistinct forms flit around. This condition does not last long, for sleep soon becomes absolute.

What does the soul do in the interim? It lives in itself, and like a pilot in a calm, like a mirror at night, a lute that no one touches, awakes new excitement.

Some psycologists, among others the count of Redern, say that the soul always acts. The evidence is, that a man aroused from sleep always preserves a memory of his dreams.

There is something in this observation, which deserves verification.

This state of annihilation, however, is of brief duration, never exceeding more than five or six hours: losses are gradually repaired, an obscure sense of existence manifests itself, and the sleeper passes into the empire of dreams.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51