Younger offspring: Mom? I have a question.
Dr. Free-Ride: OK.
Younger offspring: If I got up really early —
Dr. Free-Ride: I hope you won’t.
Younger offspring: No, I won’t, but if I got up really early, way before it’s time to wake up, like, midnight, and I tried to open my eyes and wake up, would I not be able to because my nerves are tired?
Dr. Free-Ride: Hmmm.
Younger offspring: Because I think if I decided to wake up at midnight I wouldn’t be able to. I won’t be able to open my eyes or get out of bed.
Dr. Free-Ride: I think you might be right about that. If your body needs sleep, it needs sleep. And your sleepy body might not let you disturb that sleep through sheer force of will.
Younger offspring: Would I not be able to open my eyes or get out of bed because my nerves are too tired?
Dr. Free-Ride: I don’t know that it would be your nerves specifically. I guess if you’re unconscious it’s part of your brain that’s doing the sleeping. But maybe the purpose of that is as much to do with the rest of your body as your brain.
Younger offspring: But the brain is what lets me dream when I’m asleep, right?
Dr. Free-Ride: Yes.
Younger offspring: So it would be doing stuff when I tried to wake up.
Dr. Free-Ride: You might even be having a dream that you had woken up but didn’t have the power to open your eyes or move your arms or legs.
Younger offspring: If it’s not that my nerves are too tired, why can’t I just wake myself up in the middle of the night?
Dr. Free-Ride: I guess when the body needs down-time, to make repairs or just take a break, it needs the down-time. It might not matter how much you want to be awake — if your body needs to sleep, it will sleep. Sometimes you can see this happen when people fall asleep in class.
Younger offspring: (shocked) They do?
Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, sometimes. I guess school is interesting enough for you and your classmates that none of you do that.
Younger offspring: Have you?
Dr. Free-Ride: Umm, maybe once or twice I’ve almost fallen asleep in a class.
Younger offspring: What class?
Dr. Free-Ride: I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with the class, that it was only because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep and my body needed rest right away, since all of the classes I took were really interesting.
Younger offspring: You should have gotten more sleep at bedtime.
Dr. Free-Ride: I might say the same thing to you.
Younger offspring: But, do you think this would be a good science question for the sprog blog?