Tag: Sleep

I have a favourite mental state

This is my latest weird thought while sat on the toilet (just now).

I’m sure everyone has a favourite mental state. Perhaps other people are at their happiest when they are deeply asleep, or asleep but dreaming, or thinking hard about a problem and coming up with a solution (the joy of that mental state is undeniable), or having rumpy pumpy, or maybe eating their favourite meal, or feeling drunk but not too drunk (happy ‘I love you all’ drunk).

Happy Drunk photos I recently found on my phone

Although those are all good mental states, for me, my favourite mental state is that place between being awake and being asleep. I love that place. I visit that amazing place shortly before I fall asleep, and shortly before I wake up. I’m in that place at least twice a day (four times if I treat myself to an afternoon nap). I suppose everyone visits the same place as me, just not at the same time or in the exact location, otherwise it would be quite crowded there.

My mind is at its most relaxed when I’m  in that place, yet I’m conscious enough to notice it and appreciate it and blog about it here. My imagination starts to play games when in that place. I see unicorns, multi-coloured goats, chocolate cakes, beautiful seas, fluffy kittens and all sorts of other amazing things. Also, ideas come to me when I’m in that state. I love it.

Picasso was a big fan of that place. He would sleep sitting upright with a spoon in his mouth so he could harness ideas that came to him just as he was nodding off (the idea is that the spoon would fall out and wake him up so that he could scribble down his ideas).

Sometimes, as I am waking up, I try to lengthen the time I am in that wondrous place by avoiding the lure of consciousness. The problem with consciousness is that it leads to clarity and the world loses most of it’s amazing colour and shape that it seemed to have in the in between place. The world is still fairly wondrous, just not quite as much, and in consciousness you need to search harder to find that wonder. In the place between sleep and awake, that wondrousness is just there. It cannot be avoided. Sometimes music plays there. But mostly all sorts of creatures lives there, most of them mythical. I might meet people there with whom I spoke during the day, or people to whom I haven’t spoken to for years. It’s always a lovely place though. It is somewhere where tea parties are had, cup cakes are eaten, and somewhere where Alice would feel utterly at home.

Alice lives between consciousness and sleep

I think I might just go now and have a nap. I feel like a cup of tea and a cup cake with a purple goat and a eight-legged stout.

 

Why do I need to be covered up to sleep even on the hottest night of the year?

This weird thought was provoked by the following image appearing on Facebook last night.

This truism of life appeared on Facebook last night

This truism of life appeared on Facebook last night

This image provoked a conversation among friends along the lines of: most agreeing that they like to be covered up to sleep and one person declaring that she didn’t need to be covered up. It seemed that this one friend was in the minority. So my weird thought is: why? Why do the majority of people (based on this extensive survey carried out under controlled conditions – a late night conversation on Facebook) prefer to be covered up to sleep?

I can only speak personally, and I have a strong need to be covered up at night. When I lived in Japan, where it is really hot in the summer, I struggled with the battle of my need for coverings against my need not to overheat. It was so hot that even having a thin sheet was too much. In fact, over the weeks, as the heat in Japan in the summer is consistently hot night after night, I adapted. I learnt not to feel insecure without a covering (and not to fear ghosts so much). Back in the UK, I soon reverted to my infant and insecure self.

Before googling this query, I concluded based on my own experience that this strong need for a cover at night might be related to one or all of three things:

  1. Legacy fear of monsters from infancy (which may come from an evolutionary need to protect oneself not from imagined monsters but actual predators in our caveman days)
  2. Legacy feeling of comfort from blankets and / or other soft things, also from childhood
  3. Body temperature changes during sleep

I can only speak of my personal experience and I know that I have irrational fears, not so much of monsters, but more of ghosts getting me in the night. I’m not sure why I think a blanket will protect me (see previous blog entry on this specific query). However, I think it runs a little deeper than that (point 2 above). I also feel that I sleep better if covered up. I just feel more secure and cosy. I am very fond of my furry blanket. So I get quite cross with summer because it prevents me from being able to wrap myself up securely and completely in duvets and my blanket, on account of being too warm, and thereby means my quality of sleep is poorer. Stupid summer! I am sure point 3 has some validity too. It just makes sense that as a person sleeps, their body slows down so cools down.

This is all conjecture so I resorted to google to find out the real answer (or, what real scientists have proposed).

According to the Internet, science supposes a number of interrelated reasons why we need to cover up when asleep (and it seems I wasn’t far off the mark).

Regarding Point 1

When we sleep in the wild, we are vulnerable to predators as we can’t quickly get up and run (or be picked up by our parents). If we are lying naked on the ground, exposed, then they will see us and eat us. We will smell nice too as our scent travels through the air. If we are covered up and camouflaged, we don’t smell so strongly, and we are harder to find. Obviously there aren’t many tigers in Shrewsbury but that evolutionary pull on our behaviour is still there.

Regarding Point 2

A blanket of some sort may have been the first ‘object’ ever owned and therefore as the child leaves babyhood, that object comes to represent a treasured item and an extension of the mother or, at least, a link to the mother. This ‘object’ is termed a ‘transitional object’. I had come across this before in my research for my dissertation on art and objects. The concept of the ‘transitional object’ was introduced by Donald Woods Winnicott, and it refers to a particular developmental sequence. By ‘transition’ Winnicott refers to an intermediate developmental phase between the psychic and external reality of a young child. In this ‘transitional space’ the child forms a bond with the ‘transitional object’, which may be a blanket or a soft toy. My interest in transitional objects stemmed from the idea that we give objects an importance far beyond their material value and we may even give them agency or attribute actual personality traits to them. This is a much studied area of psychology. We love our objects and we particularly love furry ones.

So even as rational, independent adults, we may still have traces of our toddler selves who used to need a certain blanket or toy to sleep with as that was a connection to the mother and the safety felt in the company of the mother.

Regarding Point 3

However, it is also true that we use blankets at night at a time when the air would normally be colder than our body’s temperature. Our blood flow creates sensations because of this temperature difference. The blanket, therefore, keeps us warm and the blood manages to flow smoothly. This reason looses validity in the summer but habits are hard to break. We are not rational creatures.

Another Internet Theory

There is also some discussion that when wrapped up tightly for sleep, we are subconsciously reminded of the feeling of being swaddled as a small infant. Being tightly bound like that, if you go further back than infancy, is reminiscent of being in the womb. Being in the womb must be the ultimate ‘safe place’ for a small developing mind and body. So recreating that feeling in adulthood will naturally fool the brain into releasing the same happy, secure and calming hormones of ante-natal life.

So as I suspected, the answer is a combination of a small amount of rational thinking and a very strong emotional need.

As for me, I’m not at all embarrassed to tell the world that despite the hot nights, I still sleep under my furry black blanket, cuddling a stuffed poo bought from London. I feel safe that way. I sleep better and my dreams are sweeter.

My cuddly poo

My cuddly poo

 

The routine of life? It’s all a conspiracy

This is the weird thought I had last night as I was fighting the urge to sleep. I was cross because I didn’t want to go to bed yet. It had only been a full day since the last time I’d have the same urge. The thought started out as a desire to rebel against the routine of life (wake, breakfast, do stuff, lunch, do more stuff, tea, watch TV, sleep) and how the need to sleep every 24 hours for 8 hours stops us from having potentially amazing adventures. We can of course have an adventure that lasts about 16 hours or so, but then, we need to stop adventuring and find a bed. How dull is that? How bland and just, plain boring it is to have to find somewhere to sleep every day at the same time every day? Sleep is so annoying. What if we were on the cusp of a great adventure or discovery and it happened to be 11pm? Needing sleep is so yawnsville, don’t you think?

Then I came up with the idea that perhaps we don’t really need sleep every 24 hours and maybe we’ve been conditioned to think we need sleep regularly. So, I hear you ask, who do you think has done this conditioning? Is it the cats again? No, this time it isn’t the cats. I decided last night, as I crawled wearily under the duvet, that it is the banks and building societies, hotel owners and landlords who are responsible for this social conditioning. I have a theory that they have colluded together to brainwash us into thinking we need to find somewhere to sleep every 24 hours for about 8 hours in one stretch and it is they that we pay to do so. If we didn’t need that sleep, we wouldn’t have a need for hotels, B&Bs or houses. We could live freely and cheaply on the beach or in cities. So I think it is all  big conspiracy and the hotel owners, bank managers, and mortgage advisers are rubbing their hands in glee as I type this. The cats, for once, aren’t even close to the equation.

Not my fault for once

Not my fault for once

So tonight, at 11pm, as I find that overwhelming urge take over me yet again, and only 24 hours since the last time it took me, perhaps I should fight it and go out and have an adventure. Or, on the other hand, maybe I’ll just put on the Big Bang Theory, read my book, and gently drift off into dreamland where the adventures are the cost of a mortgage on a four-bedroomed house.

An expensive place to sleep

An expensive place to sleep

 

Why I like the no man’s land of Between Christmas And New Year

Today is the 28th December. I am in the midst of one of my favourite times of year: the no-man’s-land days between Christmas and New Year.

Today’s weird thought is about why I like these days.  No, correct that, why I LOVE these days.

I like this time because for 362-ish days of the year I am running around like a headless chicken: working, ferrying children, governoring, volunteering, being an art student and being a parent. I don’t just sit. I ride on the wave of anxiety. I don’t watch TV without doing something else at the same time. I flit from Wolverhampton, to school, to home, to school, to Zumba, and back home again. I don’t pause for thought or anything else.

Eat some Christmas pudding

Eat some Christmas pudding

I cope with that level of activity because for four or five days a year, I stop. I might dip in and out of work or my art after Christmas but I don’t do much of it. I mainly do nothing. I relax. Most of all, I sleep. During this time, my body says STOP! And I obey. I stop. I get up late, I have an afternoon nap or I sleep in the car or on the sofa, I doze in the evening, waking only to make the journey upstairs to bed. I am surrounded by family and we have nothing better to do than play with our presents, eat leftovers, drink wine while catching up on Christmas Day TV, ignore the mess building around us, and watch daytime television for no other reason than it would be rude not to.

Pick at the turkey

Pick at the turkey

So it amazes me when people are so keen to get their decorations down and get back to a routine (even those that do it on New Year’s Day – that’s still too early). I see (and hear them) get their hoovers out. Our next door neighbour was hoovering on Boxing Day morning. I say: stop your tidying and embrace the lazy days. Embrace the mess. You live busy, tidy lives the rest of the year. Sit, get fat, hibernate, sleep, do nothing and enjoy. Don’t worry about the mess. Let it lie. There is plenty of time in January for tidying. Just stop and feel proud of all you’ve achieved this year. For once, my advice is: don’t bother seizing the day. Leave the day to pass you by. Be a sleepy teenager.

I urge everyone over these few days to do something indulgent, read a book, lie in bed, drink Bailieys in bed, have long baths, play with Lego, eat pickled cabbage until you turn into a woopie cushion (that is what it does to me), eat it out of the jar with bread and butter, pick off the turkey carcas, and dip into the trifle. Enjoy. Make the most of it. You will burn it all off again in January.

Yum city

Yum city

I love these days. They all feel the same. What day is it? I think it is Monday or Tuesday. I don’t care. All this typing has exhausted me. Time for a sleep.

People who think a lot sleep badly

This is a weird thought I had at 5am this morning when I couldn’t get back to sleep. I found myself early this morning lying in bed engaged in, rather than sleeping soundly, thinking, thinking, and more thinking. I thought about work, art, artists, philosophy, food, coffee, chocolate, my children, my week to come, parents’ evening (what I was going to attend this evening), Zumba (another activity of today), the cat, science, religion and the sea.

The most chilled cat in Shrewsbury - she doesn't think much

The most chilled cat in Shrewsbury – she doesn’t think much

After an hour of constant thinking I gave up and made myself a coffee and an egg buttie so I could think and eat at the same time, and read my book (a book about philosophy).

I’ve been plagued sporadically with insomnia all my life. Even as a child and a teenager I can remember lying in bed thinking and not sleeping. Luckily, I am generally only plagued by sleeplessness about once a month, but when the plague hits me, it hits me hard.

Is he just thinking too much?

Is he just thinking too much?

So my weird thought is: do people who think a lot sleep badly? Do we all spend the same amount of time thinking? Do I think as much as the man stood next to me in the Post Office queue, as David Cameron, as the milkman, as my eldest child? Is thinking a constant for everyone? I suspect not. I think people who think too much can’t sleep.

Interestingly, if you google ‘high IQ and insomnia’ you get some interesting results that claims that on average, people who suffer from insomnia may have a higher IQ. However, my theory is not based on intelligence. It is based on thinking. I don’t think you need to have a high IQ in order to be a thinker. I’m sure there are some very chilled people with a very high IQ who sleep like babies – I’m married to such a person. Equally, I think there are some very clever people who don’t bother their brain with thinking too much.

I've never known this person to suffer from insomnia

I’ve never known this person to suffer from insomnia

This article claims that night owls are likely to be more intelligent than morning larks. Poppy cock I reckon. But then I would say that, I’m a morning lark. This article thinks that ‘creative geniuses’ are plagued with sleep issues. Of course that must be true, I say.

However, whether sleeplessness is related to cognitive ability I couldn’t possibly say, but I do believe that those who suffer from excessive thinking are more likely to be lying awake at 2am.

 

Too many balls in the air – but I can’t drop any of them

Today’s thought is provoked  by a conversation I had last week with a friend while walking to school to pick up the little boys. We were talking about people who do too much, or, take on too many things. She was telling me about a friend of hers who took on too many different jobs at once at the same time as expecting a baby. Except for the baby part, she could have been talking about me. She said, and these words stuck with me for a while, ‘if you take on too many different tasks or jobs, you won’t be able to give any of them your full attention and you’ll end up being disappointed’. It was as if she’d read my mind of recent. I’ve had a really busy couple of weeks and I have been worrying that I haven’t been giving enough to any of the jobs I have had to do: work, college, home, everything else.

Two balls are work, one is college, one is children, and the last is everything else.

Two balls are work, one is college, one is children, and the last is everything else.

This is me: I can sit at home with two or three applications or spreadsheets open up on the laptop, plus a sketch pad by my side, and a blog entry half written (this one), and I will spend my day flitting between each task not quite finishing any of them. I will only put everything down at the last minute before I need to go to school or before I need to go to bed. I’ll print out work to take to college (or even better take my laptop and wifi). I’ll take work to school events to read during the boring bits. My sketch pad is with me all the time. My to-do list is by my bed. The phrase ‘no, I have no time for that’ is not one I can ever utter. I have about three books on the go – dipping in and out of each of them during spare moments.

However, if I am to keep my sanity over the next six months (until I finish my college course), I need to drop one of the balls: but which one? I can’t drop work as it pays the bills and buys me coffee. I can’t drop college for obvious reasons. I can’t drop the children, they might not thank me for that. And I can’t drop ‘everything else’ because I want to do ‘everything else’ as well.

Sleep? I suppose I could drop that ball from time to time. Or I just resign myself to the fact that I am an workaholic and always will be and just try my best to put my best into each job, task, child.

Any excuse for a cute cat picture

Any excuse for a cute cat picture

Why do we change our clothes to go to bed?

This is a question prompted by my four-year-old son. He was getting into his pyjamas this evening and he moaned to me about having to get changed. I asked him: Why do you think you need to get changed to go to bed? He giggled. He thought for a minute. He giggled again. Then he was stumped. He couldn’t think of a reason.

So this had me thinking further later on while in the usual place: why do we bother to change before we go to bed? Why not just go to bed in today’s clothes and put clean ones on tomorrow? Or even better, why not go to bed in tomorrow’s clothes rendering the transition to day time easier?

These guys wear jammies to bed

These guys wear jammies to bed

Perhaps there is a conspiracy going on, fueled by the pyjama industry. I bet nobody has bothered to question this before. We just blindly change into our jammies before bed, like lemmings. Someone, somewhere, is laughing, sitting on a huge pot of profit from the sale of Tomas the Tank Engine pyjamas, satin nighties and tartan onesies.

The inventor of pyjamas feeling quite happy

The inventor of pyjamas feeling quite happy

This pyjama-wearing habit runs very deep. I challenged my eldest son to go to bed in today’s clothes and he just couldn’t do it. He refused to do it. He said it felt like being naughty.

The actual garment ‘pyjama’ has an interesting history (see that fountain of all knowledge, wikipedia). I don’t need to repeat it here and it’s of little relevance anyway.

Of course not everyone wears what we know as ‘pyjamas’ to bed (I wear pyjama bottoms and a vest top). Some people wear nothing. Others wear just pants. Some wear nighties. And others that throw-back to the 1980s, the night shirt (an oversized t-shirt). There are also people who might chose the very sexy ‘onesie’ that I’m sure will disappear completely in less than 12 months from now (I’d rather eat worms than wear one of those).

Is this called the 'twosie'?

Is this called the ‘twosie’?

But back to my original question: why do we bother to change for bed? Seems a bit of a waste of time and money to me. Sadly I have far too many pairs of pyjama bottoms and dressing gowns to throw this old habit away and wear my clothes to bed.

Actually, secretly, or not so secretly, I love my jammies.

 

 

How do other people fall asleep?

This wasn’t a ‘on the toilet’ thought as I was lying in bed last night on the edge between wakefulness and sleep when this thought popped into my head (annoyingly, as it woke me up). The thought was: do other people have a physical, and / or mental, routine that they follow when they fall asleep or do they just lie down and shut their eyes?

How do we do this?

Is she counting sheep in her head?

My routine is as follows:

  • Stage 1: I always start on my right-hand side. It is dark so I then close my eyes. I let thoughts flow naturally through my head: memories about my day and conversations, or ideas and plans for the next day or the future. This can last from anything from one minute to twenty minutes.
  • Stage 2: As soon as my thoughts get a bit bizarre (e.g. dancing goats in pink slippers jumping over pineapples) I turn over onto my left-hand side. I know that once my thoughts get bizarre I’m closer to sleep.
  • Stage 3: I’m now on my left-hand side. The act of turning over wakes me slightly so my thoughts tend to return to something a little more normal (the goats have galloped away temporarily) and a couple of new ideas or funny moments from the day might pop into my head. However, I know that very soon the goats will be back (its not always goats, by the way, it could be anything). As the goats and pineapples return I feel my body relax and my brain drift in and out of blackness. Then I know sleep is coming. This stage can last anything from one minute to five minutes.

However, if I am still awake after about ten minutes and the goats haven’t returned then I know that sleep isn’t going to come as easily as I hoped. So I might turn back onto the right-hand side and start doing something really mundane in my head such as counting backwards from 300, imagining that I am on an endless escalator or listening to my husband explaining about how to write code.

This is enough to send you to sleep

This is enough to send you to sleep

Sometimes I might start off Stage 1 by playing a story in my head if my day hasn’t been especially interesting or funny. I won’t reveal in detail what my stories are but I have a bank of them to pull upon when needed. They are not rude by the way, as that would wake me up. They usually involve something nice happening to me. Sometimes I become famous and my name is in lights. However, one of my favourites used to be about me and my boys traipsing about in the woods in our wellies.

Who doesn't want their name in lights, in their dreams anyway?

Who doesn’t want their name in lights, in their dreams anyway?

So, how do other people ‘fall’ into sleep? This is what the scientists say on the matter.

Why am I yet to have a great 3am idea?

As an art student, ideas are very important to me. I have a lot of them. They float into my head at the strangest moments, while driving, at Zumba, while cycling around town and on the edge of sleep at 3am. Some are good, but most are not. I think if they were all good then I’d be overwhelmed. I’m glad that most are not. I haven’t got the time!

Where my best ideas come from

Where my best ideas come from

At 4.40am this morning I woke up and went to the toilet. While I was there, I started thinking about those 3am ideas that we all get and how they seem brilliant at 3am but shrivel up and die in the light of day. Why is that?

I don’t think I’ve had any life-changing 3am ideas: I could fill a wall in detailed post-it note drawings! How about making a giant sculpture out of ketchup bottles? Or I should cover a floor with sand and get people to draw with their feet in it. I could make a video starting my cat and call it ‘a day in the life of my cat’.

Creativity hour

Creativity hour

I’ve had a lot of 3am ideas that seemed life-changing at the time, but I think that more times than not I’ve dismissed them in the morning as fantastical. Not everyone shares my view. On googling ‘middle of the night ideas’ the Internet spews up many websites encouraging ways to harness these creative surges.

I wonder if sleeping on books would induce good ideas

I wonder if sleeping on books would induce good ideas

Picasso, famously, would sleep sitting up with a spoon in his mouth to try to trap those half-awake half-sleep ideas. He was a firm believer in their originality. The hope was that as his brain slipped from near sleep to sleep the spoon would fall out of his mouth and wake him up and he’d leap in the air, exclaim ‘aha!’ and head to a blank canvas.

I don’t think I want to try this, especially given that I don’t have a lot of faith in my ability to come up with good ideas in a semi-conscious state (my Zumba ideas are much better). And anyway, sleep is ace, why disrupt it?

 

The quarter to eleven train doesn’t exist

I should confess from the beginning that this isn’t a thought I had on the toilet but rather it is one that I had later on lying in bed waiting for sleep. I hope that I can still justify writing about it. I think it is an interesting thought. It is worth sharing.

Every night when I am lying in bed, shortly after turning the light off, I know that if I hear a train go by in the near distance then it is a quarter to eleven. This train is a freight train and rumbles on for about ten minutes, chugging past rattling its cargo as it does. This is ‘the quarter to eleven train’, at least that is what we call it here. I find this sound very comforting and if I am still awake when it goes past then sleep usually comes soon after. It is almost as if I can’t get to sleep until the quarter to eleven train has been and gone. If, heaven forbid, it were to miss a day, I’ll be awake for hours I’m sure. But as far as I know it hasn’t missed a day. I need to hear that train.

This isn't the quarter to eleven train

This isn’t the quarter to eleven train

However, last night, I was sat in bed reading my book and I heard the gentle rumbling of the quarter to eleven train approaching. My first thought was ‘oh I should stop reading and go to sleep if it is a quarter to eleven already’. But it was nowhere near a quarter to eleven. it was ten thirty-five. This had me doubting that the quarter to eleven train actually exists. Perhaps it really is the ten thirty-five train. Or worse perhaps the train doesn’t even have a time. Maybe the train travels when it is ready and it passes by at ‘around’ a quarter to eleven every night. Or far worse than that, perhaps the quarter to eleven train doesn’t exist at all. This thought troubled me. This would take away the comfort of routine from me. I like routine. Shortly after the sound of the long ten thirty-five train passing into the distance, I turned out the light and lay down my head. Silence. No train to lull me to sleep. This was not good. It would make a good end to the story if I told you I tossed and turned for hours, at least until the quarter to twelve train went past. But that would be a lie. I fell asleep.

My book

My book

I hope that my fears are unfounded and the quarter to eleven train does indeed exist and that last night’s early train was a one-off. Otherwise we might have to move house to somewhere that does have a quarter to eleven train.