[T]he sheer sensuality of somnolence is a secret the elderly keep from the young (Al Alvarez).
The field of sleep studies has been expanding rapidly in recent years, but scholars in this area have not yet had a great deal to say about the pleasures of sleep. The discourse of sleep studies tends, for all sorts of good reasons, to strike a rather earnest note in its emphasis on sleep as a central and absolutely indispensable part of human experience, one whose benefits to our health and well being are under threat from the demands of a 24/7 society. But the hedonistic notion that sleep might be valuable as a source of sheer pleasure and enjoyment has not been high on the agenda.
Perhaps this is not so surprising. Scholarly discourse isn't always comfortable with a language of headiness, euphoria and abandon -- though there are some exceptions, notably in the work of Roland Barthes, whose late lectures contain some brief, tantalizing remarks on the 'utopia' of sleep, his term for the delicious luxury of self-neglect in the state of somnolence. Perhaps we need to follow Barthes and go to fiction and poetry for inspiration about how we might begin to create a hedonistic aesthetic of sleep. What we will find there, however, is that even such champions of sleep as Marcel Proust and Al Alvarez are strikingly ambivalent in what they have to say about sleep and pleasure. For Proust, pleasures experienced in sleep are phantom experiences that do not count towards the sum total of our life's pleasure; for Alvarez, it is only the elderly who appreciate the sensual pleasure of sleep, and they do so because they have lost the ability to experience it. The pleasure of sleep, it seems, is a pleasure sous rature.