This weird thought was provoked by the following image appearing 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:
- 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)
- Legacy feeling of comfort from blankets and / or other soft things, also from childhood
- 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.