To sleep, perchance to dream
Hamlet – William Shakespeare Act III Scene 1
“Operation Sweet Dreams” was the nickname given to a government program that began a few years ago but due to recent developments, has only now been brought to the public eye. If you’re awake and are able to read this, you’ll know why.
Let’s start with one Melvin Gurney, a 53 year old bespectacled chemist working in the employ of the super-secret branch of the government called the National Somnambulist Agency. According to a part of their mission statement they were charged with “Eliminating the difference between night and day and to bask the world in eternal night.” Mr. Gurney lived alone in a one bedroom apartment above a liquor store just outside of Fairfax, Virginia. He had no wife or children, a few distant relatives and even fewer friends. His day do day routine seldom changed and he seemed content to go through life with a sense of anonymity that neither brought him pleasure or pain.
All of that would change one day. I’ll let you decide if it was for the better or the worse.
The NSA was experimenting with a way for people to do more with less sleep. Their thought process was that if we could get people to do more with their time, society as a whole would be more productive. Volunteers were recruited for forays into the study of sleep and what effects sleep deprivation would have on the population as a whole. Their intent was to introduce a drug that would reduce the number of hours that an individual would need in order to go about their business without any adverse side effects. Privacy oaths were signed under the penalty of imprisonment should any of the volunteers reveal the results or even the nature of the study. Employees of the NSA were also required to keep their mouths shut.
One day, while tinkering in his lab, Mr. Gurney discovered a formula that had the exact opposite effect that the government was looking for. Not only did his formula induce drowsiness, it also eliminated all possibilities of having nightmares. In addition, snoring would be a thing of the past and based on dosage and certain physical characteristics, the need for alarm clocks and other such devices would become ancient history. He had found a way to alter an individual’s biorhythms in such a way that they could regulate their sleep patterns much like a thermostat regulates the temperature in a room. His formula seemed to be some type of controlled hibernation that didn’t change according based on what season it was.
Mr. Gurney was pleased with his discovery and thought about the potential benefits it might have on the general population. No longer would children be afraid of things that go bump in the night or the monsters that might lurk under their bed. No longer would adults arrive at work and lament to anybody that would listen what they give for a good night’s sleep. People without air conditioning would not have to toss turn on their quest for the cool side of the pillow. Spouses would not be awakened fighting over which one controlled the blankets and parents wouldn’t have to worry over such things as the 2:00 AM feeding for their infants.
He tried to tout these benefits to his superiors but they only saw the possibility of abuse. Like many other government programs, this “discovery” had the exact opposite intentions of what they were looking for. A decision was made by the higher ups to call a halt to the study. Years of research and taxpayer were all wasted and to ensure that our inauspicious, unassuming Mr. Gurney didn’t turn whistleblower he was whisked away to a nearly uninhabited post in the Aleutian Islands that goes by the name of Unalaska where he was charged with researching the sleep patterns of sheep and other local wildlife in the land close to the midnight sun.
Then, one day a few years later, fate intervened.
Tensions between Russia and the United States had been running high for quite some time. Threats of aggression between matters real and perceived between the two countries had reached a boiling point and finally tipped when the United States expelled a Russian Ambassador for spilling a drink on the President during a state dinner. Concerns about the possibility of poisoning soon hit the mass media like a tidal wave. In retaliation, the Russians overran Unalaska Island and took possession of its contents which just happened to include our disgruntled Mr. Gurney.
Finding himself with little recourse he soon revealed the nature of his discovery to the Russian authorities. Of course, at first they were skeptical but at his insistence he claimed he could reproduce his results if he was given the proper equipment and conditions. After some internal bickering, he was shipped to an underground laboratory on the outskirts of Moscow where his work would begin.
Once his work was completed the Politburo decide to test his formula on the country’s vast prison population. They were amazed and quite pleased when they deduced that by the controlling the dosage, prisoners were now sleeping soundly for upwards of twenty hours a day. There were no threats of rioting and the need for prison guards were reduced to a minimum. They decided to keep this ace up their sleeve and not announce their discovery to the world.
This went on for a few more years and due to its failing economy the need to normalize relations with the United States seemed more and more necessary to remain a player on the global stage. Trade between the two countries would resume and Russian exports to the United States soon began thereafter.
In the interim, the Russians also did some tinkering with Melvin Gurney’s original formula and found other ways to introduce it to the population. In addition to being consumed, it could now be absorbed through the skin or inhaled through fumes or directly through ones naval passages. They were delighted at this since to deploy it here in the States, all they had to do was introduce to the top ten exports that were being shipped overseas and America would do the rest. Here’s a list of those exports from 2014 and what they worth.
Oil: US$288,361,702,000 (58.6% of total Russian exports)
Iron and steel: $20,202,919,000 (4.1%)
Gems, precious metals, coins: $11,579,099,000 (2.4%)
Machines, engines, pumps: $8,985,440,000 (1.8%)
Fertilizers: $8,909,523,000 (1.8%)
Wood: $7,638,190,000 (1.6%)
Cereals: $6,972,489,000 (1.4%)
Aluminum: $6,298,128,000 (1.3%)
Inorganic chemicals: $5,079,839,000 (1.0%)
Copper: $4,873,518,000 (1%)
And so it began. At first, nobody hardly seemed to notice but everybody that was exposed to the Russian goods was now sleeping longer and working less. Even though they’d awake bright eyed and bushy tailed, after a few hours all they wanted to do was go back to the comfort of their own beds and close their eyes and let the Sandman take them away. The country had come to a virtual standstill.
When my daughter was much younger, I’d often put her to bed with the words “Sleep the sleep of angels”
These days, it doesn’t seem like I have a choice.
Footnote: For his efforts, Melvin Gurney has been awarded the “Hero of the Russian Federation”, the highest award that country offers.
At least in public.