Forbidden Dreams

You cast off with a heavy heart,

A flash of bloodshot as you leap;

And even though this is the start,

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

Between two hemispheres of blue,

You search for scraps of food to eat;

A desolate and naval view,

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

The guarding vessels of the storm,

House eddies over which you creep;

With currents that feel safe and warm,

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

The borderland of sun and sea,

Are where you dare not think of sheep;

The two halves of your brain agree:

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

You close your eyes to get some rest,

As waking dreams begin to seep;

Your fragile brain is feeling stressed,

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

You catch yourself before you fall,

With weary eyes too dry to weep;

You will not give in to their call,

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

You head for home with steely will,

And stare into the waters deep;

With unmatched expertise and skill,

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

And landing now on solid ground,

You crumple down into a heap;

Your body shuts out every sound.

The ocean waves call you to sleep.

 

A frigatebird snatching some prey (dropped by another frigatebird) from the ocean surface (Photo Credit: Duncan Wright).
A frigatebird snatching some prey (dropped by another frigatebird) from the ocean surface (Photo Credit: Duncan Wright).

 

This is a Kyrielle, inspired by recent research which found that whilst birds that fly extensive distances are able to fly in their sleep, it may be that they instead undergo long periods of being awake. This particular study monitored the sleeping patterns of frigatebirds using a  small device to measure changes in brain activity and head movements whilst the birds were flying. The results of the study found that even though the birds were able to fly whilst sleeping (either with one hemisphere of their brain asleep at a time, or both hemispheres simultaneously asleep), the birds spent the majority of their time awake, sleeping for less than an hour a day over periods of up to 10 days, and distances in excess of 3000 km. Given that the same birds sleep for over 12 hours a day when on land, this would indicate that the birds are able to function to a high degree (foraging for food, riding air currents, avoiding mid-air collisions etc.) with a significant lack of sleep. Studying how frigatebirds are able to sustain such adaptive performances on such little sleep may eventually help us to better understand how humans can also better adapt to functioning on reduced sleep patterns.

An audio version of this poem can be heard here.

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