Sleep: You’re Doing It Wrong
A lot of things have been making me think about sleep lately—mostly, how to do it wrong.
My little sister, Mush, came up to visit me last week—which was awesome. We drank cosmos and watched The Rescuers Down Under. That movie is good on its own, but with cosmos it’s HILARIOUS. While she was here, though, she told me the full synopsis of some creepy movie that she watched on Netflix (called Absentia). It was about a woman who’s husband goes missing and it turns out that he was dragged by the devil into hell, which happened to be housed inside this old run-down tunnel. If your loved one got taken, you would have to make offering of live animals or people to the tunnel to get to see a glimpse of the person again. The movie sounded beyond disturbing, and after literally twenty minutes of chills running up and down my spine I said, “Wait—why are you telling me this? You know I don’t watch scary movies.”
And she answered, “Because—don’t you get it? It sounds like something you would dream, dude.”
And, yeah, it did.
You see, the reason why I don’t watch scary movies or graphic or disturbing movies or even movies that could GO in that direction is because I don’t want to feed my night brain. Because my night brain is a screwed up mofo. Ever since I can remember I have been plagued by very intense nightmares that left me feeling like I never slept by the time I woke up. When I was really little, I would wake up in a sort of half-state and keep hallucinating the rest of the dream WHILE talking to my parents. Either that, or I was actually fully asleep and just able to respond to their questions at the same time— I don’t know. It’s not like any of this stuff in the early days was worth being fully creeped out by, but it did make it so that I never wanted to go to sleep. I was, like, seven.
Most commonly, I dreamed of a tiny man in a purple cloak pacing back and forth on my windowsill. There was only darkness where his face would have been and he never spoke to me. I’m not really sure how I came up with that one, since my brain was on a diet of Pooh’s Corner and Peter, Paul and Mary songs. I distinctly remember my Dad hugging me and telling me it wasn’t there, while I looked over his shoulder and watched it walk behind him. I have the feeling that a small, developing brain could do crap like that. I’ve looked into it—and it has to be that I was in a half-sleep state, otherwise I would have been the next Lizzie Borden or something because what kind of person hallucinates like that? I’ll tell you—not the kind of person who also spent 2.5 hours a day brushing her Jasmine doll’s hair.
To this day I hate monkeys with a passion because I dreamed about evil monkeys A LOT growing up. I also watched The Wizard of Oz every other day. Things you think of twenty years later:
Why am I dreaming of evil monkeys every night, Mom? That’s some fucking mysterious shit there.
I lived in the same room with my sister for most of my young life, so she knew what my sleep was like. I often told her about my disturbing dreams in the morning just to try and forget them and not let them haunt me all day. Mush also had sleep issues, but hers were less nightmarish and more the fact that she screamed in her sleep. And, once she learned them, she screamed curses in her sleep. Nothing that made sense, of course, because she was still dreaming. It was also super strange because she didn’t curse when she was awake, and no one really cursed around her so we couldn’t figure out why she developed this tendency.
I have to tell you that you will catch some serious air if you are deep asleep and suddenly the person next to you starts screaming, “That mother rat is a BITCH.” at the top of her lungs.
You’ll wake up abruptly with your face in the carpet.
Usually Mush was the only one talking in her sleep, and eventually I convinced my parents to move me into my room because I had enough trouble sleeping on my own and I didn’t need her nightly bouts of sleep-Tourette’s added in as well. However, before I moved, there was one night when I did talk in my sleep. I woke up in the morning with Mush’s face two inches from mine.
“Holy cow! What are you doing?” I asked her. She was propped up on her elbows and her eyes were shining like big, round, silver dollars.
“You. Told. Me. The. Best. Story. EVER.” she said.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Didn’t you dream it, too? Like, didn’t you dream it while you said it?”
“No—I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You have no idea what you just said? Dude, I never went to sleep. You talked for eight hours. It was seriously detailed. I was afraid to go pee and miss something.”
“Well, do you remember what it was?”
“It was like all of these messed up fairy tales. You changed all of the endings. Oh my god, it was so good. You should write it down.”
“How can I write down if I can’t remember it? Tell me!”
“You think I have eight hours? I’m going to bed. Night.”
When she woke up later she totally forgot all of it.
I don’t think ever talked in my sleep again. And I don’t snore or really move either. When Ralph first started sleeping in bed with me he constantly thought that he had accidentally suffocated me somehow because I appeared dead. If only he knew that in my head that I was running as fast as I could away from witches trying to claw my eyes out or swimming in muddy waters trying to evade hungry alligators.
One morning, I woke up especially haggard and Ralph asked if I had a bad dream.
“Yeah, as always,” I said.
“What was it?” he asked. I didn’t want to tell him, because the honest truth was that even I had no clue why my dreams were so intense and often really disturbing—a lot of them too disturbing to mention here.
“I don’t want to tell you. You’ll be scared my subconscious is messed up.”
“Well now I’m going to assume that it’s worse than it is,” said Ralph.
“Okay… I dreamed that a man was chasing me and then when he caught me he raped me and sliced me with a knife a bunch of times.”
“Do you dream that often?”
“I think it’s common.”
“No it’s not. I have NEVER had a dream like that.”
“Yeah. Most of my dreams are good dreams.”
“Good dreams?” He might as well have said that he mostly ate unicorns for breakfast. Up until that point the thought that a person could have good dreams hadn’t really crossed my mind. Once, I fell asleep listening to Crash and I dreamed that I had moderately good sex with Dave Matthews on a sunny hillside. Since I was napping in the afternoon and it was only moderately good, I didn’t count it. I felt bad when I woke up, too, because he’s married. That was as close as I got to a good dream.
“You have good dreams?” I asked, with bug eyes.
“All the time.”
I kind of wanted to slap him.
“What did you dream last night then?”
He had been giggling in his sleep a lot the past few nights. I thought maybe his rapist was tickling him.
“I dreamed that I got a baby ostrich as a pet and he only liked to eat ice cream so I was feeding him pink ice cream off of my spoon. He was super cute.”
“What. The. Eff. Are you lying?”
“Nope. I named him Norbert.”
Ralph went on to tell me a huge backlog of good dreams. He flew planes, hung out with his favorite rock stars, and ate feasts of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups pancakes with Jon Stamos and William Shatner. It was a world that I couldn’t even envision. A world where you could go to sleep and not be murdered. I was so jealous.
Also, I was having more trouble sleeping that usual because Ralph, like Mush, also loved talking in his sleep. I had to forbid him to talk to customer service people on the phone before going to bed because, if I let him, all night long he would list his address, phone number and repeatedly spell his name. Over and over until I kicked him awake.
Now, I have also been thinking about sleep lately because I love the radio show This American Life and the host, Ira Glass, has been really promoting this movie that he made with Mike Bribiglia called, Sleepwalk with Me. It’s about Mike Birbiglia’s bout of sleepwalking that caused him to jump out of a second story hotel window while dead asleep and then, covered in broken glass, run down the street while STILL sleeping. The movie indicates that his trouble with his relationship in real life was bothering him so much that his body was acting out the stress in his sleep.
I am a naturally anxious, stressed out person. Ralph calls me, “Stress Cat” as a nickname because I often have the expression of kitten who put her tail in an electrical socket. I’m so stressed that I don’t think I even HAVE a butthole anymore. My colon just ends in a series of knots. I have a very nicely shaped butt. It’s my best asset. It’s not genes—it’s because I clench it all day in fear and it’s become pretty toned from that. So, when you take a person who is naturally at that level of anxiety and you try to marry her—well, she’s going to act out that stress in her sleep.
I have accidentally punched Ralph in the face in my sleep three times. Two times I was really sorry. When we were planning our wedding and things started to go wrong I would have a ton of trouble falling asleep. I started to mumble and whimper. It wasn’t because I was worried about getting married—I love Ralph more than any other human that has lived or ever will live. It was because of all of the stupid Martha Stewart shit that I was concerned with. Flowers. Shoes. Place cards.What kind of sunscreen to bring to Hawaii so that I don’t come home a potato chip with eyeballs. Things like that.
THEN, I got a new job that was more stressful than my old job. THEN, we moved to a new place and everything I needed was not where it was supposed to be. THEN, I broke my back irreparably and feared I would be a fat bride who needed to be pulled down the aisle in a wagon because I couldn’t move. THEN, I lived on Lean Cuisines and guess what—not food. They are not food at all. If you only eat Lean Cuisines eventually your brain will stop working entirely from a lack of nutrients and you will actually like to listen to Ke$ha songs and paint your nails in rainbow colors. (I never reached that point, thank goodness.)
All of that happened in the span of—one month. Yep, one month. So that was a lot of additional stress wearing down my Stress Cat subconscious. It was no big surprise when one night while sleeping I got up (still sleeping), walked into the bathroom, spun around, walked a few steps and fell flat like a plank—straight out—onto the floor. As if someone had called, “TIMBER” and I was the tree. This would have not been too bad, except I’m tall and my chin caught the edge of my bedside table. Ralph woke up before I did. He was screaming because I was on the floor covered in blood.
My head was throbbing because my teeth had slammed against each other. Thankfully, I hadn’t caught my tongue between them.
I hazily reached up and touched the underside of my chin and my hand came back covered in blood.
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” I said, slurring a little. Considering the fact that I thought I was shot in the face with a gun because I was dreaming just a second ago, the lack of bullets was a positive to me.
Ralph was in full on spazz mode. “I THOUGHT YOU DIED. I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD AND THEY WERE GOING TO BLAME ME FOR YOUR MURDER AND I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO MISS YOU FOREVER AND GO TO PRISON.”
“Wow. You watch too much Lifetime, Ralph.”
I heaved myself up and went to our bathroom to see the damage. A gash was on the underside of my chin. I tried to squeeze it together and it popped back apart as the blood ran down my neck. I knew I needed a stitch, but it was four in the morning and I didn’t feel like calling off work at my new job. I stuck a band-aid on it and bled through it, so I put two more on.
“You need a stitch!” said Ralph, because he always annoyingly says just what I’m thinking and trying to deny.
“I’m going back to bed,” I said.
“You can’t go to sleep! You could have a concussion!”
“Please, Ralph. It’s a scratch. If it’s still bad in three hours, I’ll go to medical when I get to work.”
Somehow I talked him down and he went back to sleep. I took some Advil, but when I laid down my head felt like it had been smacked with a hammer. At 6:30 I quickly got dressed and got into my car. I peeled the band-aids off and fresh blood ran all over. It was just as bad as earlier. I did what I always do. Called my mom.
“Mom, I think…I may have ripped my face open right before my wedding.”I told her what happened.
“It’s three hours later and it didn’t clot up yet? Sissy, you need to get that looked at before you SCAR.” My mom knows how to get to me.
“Oh, you’re right! Oh no! What if I have a scar for my wedding??” And that’s how the stress of planning a wedding caused me to rip my face open, which caused me to have even more stress.
Thankfully, a nurse was able to glue it shut and it healed cleanly enough that it could be covered with makeup. It’s a very tiny scar now.
That was my only bout of sleepwalking, but if sleepwalking is genetic, then I should have been doing it a long time ago. It runs in my mother’s side of the family. My aunt, her sister, had it the worst. She regularly got out of bed, wrapped her blanket around her so that it trailed behind her like a train, and walked in circles humming, “Here Comes the Bride.”
My little brother also did his fair share of sleepwalking. We sometimes found him downstairs, wandering around disoriented. He woke my mom up a lot to tell her things in his sleep:
“Mom. Mom. Mom.”
“What is it?” she would ask him with a gasp.
“Mom, I just wanted to tell you—I finished the barn.”
“Oh, Brother. You’re sleeping, bud.”
“I finished it, Mom. It’s done. I built it.”
“That’s great, honey. You should go get some sleep. Building a barn is tiring.”
“Okay, thanks, Mom.”
Then he would trudge back to bed.
There are crazy shows on TV about people who can sleepwalk and actually drive a car. One woman got out of bed with her husband, drove her car to an ex-boyfriend’s house, and had sex with him—all while sleepwalking. Because that’s not just a convenient excuse for cheating on your husband AT ALL. What did the ex-boyfriend do when she knocked on his door and he answered it to find her standing on his stoop with her eyes closed and her head titled back, drooling a little. He didn’t think, “Oh, she’s sleeping. I should wake her up?” He thought, “I should have sex with this zombie that just drove to my house.” ? ? TV is so weird these days. But more on that another time.
For now, I’m trying to reign in my bad sleeping habits by really relaxing before bed with Sleepy Time Tea and not watching anything too intense. I think that maybe the worst of it is only a phase, since my brother and sister have grown out of it their sleep issues completely, and my nightmares have seemed to lessen over time. However…I did recently decide to getThe Wizard of Ozon bluray…I wonder if that was a bad choice.
I’ll let you know how it works out :)