In my early days of daily newspapering three decades ago, Douglas Coupland was being hailed as a great new writer after publishing “Generation X,” a novel that focused on characters born immediately after the baby boomers.
His fiction helped popularize “Generation X” to describe what were, back then, the up-and-comers apparently destined to define the 21st century.
One of my coworkers, himself an X-er, carried Coupland’s book around the newsroom as if touting a Bible. In this way, I came to see Coupland as a tribune of youth.
I hadn’t thought about Coupland for years, but he came back to mind some weeks ago while my wife and I, as part of a silver wedding anniversary trip in England, were taking an early train from London to Bath.
Opening a copy of the Financial Times in the rail car, I spotted a lengthy column by Coupland touting the virtues of getting enough sleep. Once the standard-bearer of those not far from adolescence, Coupland had, it seemed, mellowed into a geezer.
Time hasn’t stood still for me, either, which is why Coupland’s praise of sleep struck me as something to be embraced rather than mocked. A few days before, the nine-hour flight that had carried my wife and I across the Atlantic was cramped and noisy, forcing us to stay up the whole time. It was the first full night of sleep I’d missed since our children were babies. The experience showed me that in middle age, I don’t rebound from sleepless nights as quickly as I once did.
But Coupland suggests that all of us need good sleep, regardless of how old we are. He’s an industrious sort, with an array of books, art projects and screenplays to his credit. His good sleep habits have obviously helped make his success possible.
“I’m a sleep freak,” he tells readers. “I get nine and a half hours every day of my life … it’s why I never do morning radio or TV work or take early flights.”
Not everyone shares Coupland’s enthusiasm for shut-eye, as he’s learned on his own lengthy airline flights. He writes of the one passenger who insists on keeping his seat brightly lit during overnight flights while everyone else is trying to doze.
With good internet service on so many long flights, as Coupland has observed, passengers tend to stay online rather than nodding off. He sees it as a “metaphor for modern existence and how we experience time.” In an age of constant stimulation from laptops and smartphones, “we receive hundreds, thousands, of dopamine hits a day,” Coupland points out. “The part of our brain that regulates our perception of time has been overloaded and exhausted.”
Which means that we don’t always know when to go to sleep. Even so, as our train headed to Bath, I finished Coupland’s article and drifted off, feeling better for it when we arrived.