11 February, 2008

Bedside Manners (or Raging River of Thought)

I don't know if it qualifies as insomnia, but I often have trouble getting to sleep. This is one of the main factors contributing to my desire to increase the length of a day by a few hours - believing that staying up longer will make it easier to finally fall asleep when the time comes, without sacrificing sleeping hours. (The other major factor is my hatred of being forced to wake up prematurely). Alternatively, I suspect that if I did more throughout the day - particularly more physical activities - I might be tired enough by the end of the day that I'd be able to fall asleep easier. Well, however it may by alleviated, the problem as I see it is related to the raging beast that is my mind. When I shut off the lights and climb into bed, the distractions of the physical world melt away, and my mind is free to explore. It runs off into patterns of thought that keep me awake, rather than allowing me to drift off to sleep. And the longer I lay in bed trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep, the more frustrating it gets. Usually, it eventually happens, but every once in awhile, my mind just refuses to shut off. And what's particularly annoying, is when I get that feeling that I need to document what I'm thinking about - like when I get a great idea about something, and I want to write it down before I forget it. It's annoying because on the one hand, I want to stay in bed and try to fall asleep, but on the other hand, I feel this urge to get up and stay up and pursue the idea.

On a related note, I also do a lot of thinking in the shower. In this case, I know that I'll be out and back in my room within the hour, so if I have any great ideas, I can just remember to write them down after I get out - unlike when I'm lying in bed, and I'm afraid I'll fall asleep and then I won't remember at all what I was thinking about before I drifted off. Still, for some things, I put a lot of importance on the exact wording of things, and oftentimes, if I don't capture that precise wording, the idea won't have nearly the impressive appeal to me as it originally had. This is a problem when I'm thinking about a topic of discussion, and I find a great way to articulate my stance. I want to preserve those words I used to frame it that way, but I can't very well write something down while I'm in the shower, and it just wouldn't be feasible to hop out of the shower everytime I think of something new. Sometimes I go to painstaking efforts to memorize exact phrasings of things while I'm in the shower, so that I can write them down after I get out. This is actually a great way to exercise my memory skills (something I've always prided myself on), but it is a lot of effort (usually more than I'm willing to expend on most issues), and one potential trouble is that if I take the time to memorize the first couple of sentences, it might actually stunt my thought process in terms of coming up with the next few sentences. So then I come up against a pretty interesting conundrum. Do I focus on memorizing what I have, making sure not to lose it, or do I let myself follow the thought through, knowing that I might very well engage myself in an enlightening inner monologue that I'll never be able to duplicate?

Well, if it hasn't sunk in yet, I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep, and I started thinking about these very issues, and I felt it would make a good entry for my blog. At first I juggled the value of getting up and going with it against that of staying in bed and hoping I could remember enough in the morning. Guess which side I ultimately allied with? I think those first two paragraphs were pretty good though, so right now I'm gonna say it was worth it. Although, in addition to talking about my sometimes frustrating thought patterns, I thought I'd also mention a few things about my bedside manners.

One thing that I think might be a question on certain people's minds (as it's been asked of me at least once), is what the hell do I do with my hair when I go to sleep? Because I've heard at least one tale of a person with long hair who woke up choking with it wrapped around the throat, and subsequently ran off and got the hair cut. Although that person must not have valued their long hair much to get it cut off so easily, it does bring up a concern. I've only had significantly long hair for a few years (let's say, long enough that it could choke me), but in college, I ended up getting into the habit of pulling my hair up to the top of my head, after laying down in bed, and tying it off with a hair tie thingy, then letting the hair hang over the top of the bed. That way, I can toss and turn back and forth with minimal tangling and whatnot, and I don't have to constantly be concerned about where my hair is, since it pretty much stays in one place. I don't know what other people do with their long hair, if they braid it or what, but this system has worked fine for me so far. I actually wish I knew more about hair stuff, because girls can do so many cool things that guys just never learn. It's like a secret art.

I like a soft, but pretty flat pillow. Those super-fluffy pillows can be really luxurious, and nice to lay on, but I have a hard time sleeping on one, because the pillow fluffs up all around your head, and that makes it hard to breathe clearly. Speaking of pillows, I happen to have a rather large mattress, and while I love to spread my body out, my pillow stays on one half (actually more like 3/4's), with the remaining quarter (the side of the bed away from the wall) hosting a stack of two really fluffy pillows, creating a kind of pillow wall that obstructs my immediate view of the area just beside the bed and the rest of the room, while I'm lying down in place. Why is this? One simple reason. After I had my sleep paralysis episode a year or so ago, I became very paranoid about an evil presence kneeling down beside my bed to watch me (which is exactly what happened during the episode), so just like you throw the covers over your head to protect yourself from the monsters in the dark of your room, I put those pillows there so I wouldn't have to be staring out into the darkness beside the bed, wondering if something might be there. Wow, that sounds so childish, but damn, if you've experienced what I've experienced, you'd understand.

As for covers, I have a nice stack of a bunch of comforters, and I use a varying percentage of that stack throughout the year. In the coldest winter months (like right now), I use most of them, to keep warm, which I guess is about 4-6 layers (I had to take off two of the layers to block off the window...). In the summer, I only use 1 layer, and it's always the same layer on bottom, which just happens to be particularly comfortable for me. Speaking of being comfortable, there's nothing more comfortable than sleeping nude, and the only time I don't is when I can't. But even now, in the cold winter, there's nothing a layer of clothing can do that an extra blanket can't do - and the blanket doesn't restrict you as much, or create as much static friction. Even in college, during the times when I shared a room, I devised a system where I'd use the basket, that I tied to my bedside to sit my alarm clock on, as a place to keep my shorts after taking them off under the cover of the blankets, so that I could slip them on again in the morning before climbing out of bed. I don't remember exactly when or exactly why I started sleeping nude, but I do remember a period of adjusting myself to it. I'm sure I didn't have any specific ideas about nudism back then, but I must have recognized the comfort and simple joy of it at the time. And that's something that I haven't forgotten.

Sometimes, during the summer, it's so hot that even using the one blanket is too much. But for the longest time I've had an inborn aversion to sleeping without any covers. Maybe it's a natural thing - defense mechanism or something - but I've always felt vulnerable without being covered - particularly the feet. Whether it's monsters or the cold or just the space, I feel uneasy climbing into bed without having anything to cover me. On the other hand, when it's just too hot to be covered, I've learned to make compromises - mostly by covering myself as little as possible, balancing the feeling of being exposed with the feeling of being overheated. I like the image that I get in a lot of anime/manga series of Japanese people sleeping with a wide but rather short (perhaps folded over) blanket covering only their midsection. I wonder what the story behind that is, if that's a Japanese custom, if there's some reasoning behind it or something. I've tried it, and it's fun just because of the association I make with characters from anime, but it only works when I'm really hot, and even then I have to gradually unfold the blanket to cover myself up more as I cool down.

Boy, isn't this interesting? I think that's all of what I thought I'd mention. I did promise something about bedside manners, didn't I? Luckily, I haven't really been forced to share a bed with anyone I didn't want to, as a result of crowding or whatever (there was that one time I opted to sleep on the floor rather than share a bed with another guy, if you remember). I have had a little experience sharing a bed with a girl, however. There are all kinds of emotional benefits, waking up next to a girl you love and all, and the physical closeness, which is all pretty obvious. There have been times when I've been pushed out of bed though - inadvertently, but no less frustrating. Ah, I just remembered something else - positions! No, not sexual positions! I mean sleeping positions.

I've always been a side sleeper. I lay on my back to relax, but never to fall asleep. I don't specifically have a favored side, as far as I know, except that lately I've been falling asleep on a particular side - but I suspect that has to do with facing away from the light leaking in through the window. As far as sleeping on my stomach, it's the oddest thing. I had a friend/roommate in college that always slept on his stomach. And it kind of scares me, because there are certain connections I do not want to have with this person - and anything related to sleeping is one of them - but I've never slept on my stomach before, yet, after having lived with him for awhile, I started doing it. I honestly can't explain it. And it's a habit that I still haven't been able to completely shake off. I also have this particular pattern I place my arms in that usually gets me the most comfortable, and it's something that I also happened upon during college. It's like a criss-cross, where I'll have one arm directed upward, over the head of the bed, and the other directed outward, away from my face - but with the arms crossed. I dunno, this is weird stuff, and I'm suddenly starting to wonder if it's even all that interesting, and most importantly, if it was really worth getting out of bed for. Maybe now I'll be tired enough to fall asleep. Still won't make me feel any better when it's time to get up though...


  1. This is interesting, if only because I was considering a similar post over the weekend, bu couldn't quite figure out how to present it in a fashion that someone would care enough to read it.

    I have the same problem getting to sleep, and I have two main methods of dealing with it. The first is trying to be ready to go to bed -- head on the pillow, lights out, eyes closed -- around the same time every night. It took a (long) while, but eventually my body got used to it and it started getting easier, more like a habit. I hesitate to say it's muscle memory, but that's what it feels like; a given reaction to a certain set of stimuli.

    The second method I use is to channel that river of thoughts into something mundane. Usually I think of myself walking down a hall of paintings, or a city street, where I can se my thoughts walking around as people or on walls as decorations. I just walk around a lot until I end up falling into a dream where I'm walking around. More recently, when I haven't been able to sleep, I just do that for a while and then find out that I've been relaxing in a semi-trance for an hour or longer... it's disconcerting, to say the least.

    Pillows, for me, have always been overrated. I just need one -- and preferably not all that thick -- to put my head on. The main use of pillows during my years at my mother's house and at college was to keep my head from getting stuck in the crack between the mattress and the bedframe. It's happened, and it's remarkably scary when you wake up in a vise, unable to move. I've never experienced sleep paralysis, though...

    Anyway, as you know, after the second year of college, I started sleeping on that couch-futon. It took a while to get used to sleeping on an inward incline, but it was ridiculously comfortable, almost like being cradled safely. I could roll all I wanted without worrying about the mattress moving away from the wall or falling off the bed. It was really hard to adjust to not being able to sleep like that, too...

    The nicest thing about sleeping here is that I essentially sleep on a bunch of thick comforters. There's no mattress to worry about, no bedframe, no fall, nothing like that. Also, my pillow is filled with little beads or beans, like the ones we had at the place near Nippori. I can push beans around so that my head is cradled, or I can push them away from the side so I have a little ledge, or any number of combinations.

    I'm also a side sleeper... one of the peculiarities is that I want my pillows to be cool when I go to bed, because I put one of my hands underneath the pillow, under my head. I don't know why, but it feels good; if I'm awake for long enough that the pillow warms up, I tend to sit up so I can fluff and flip the pillow over so that it's cool again for my hand.

    I definitely can't sleep on my stomach, it feels suffocating. It's also kind of uncomfortable for my back and neck, as well.

    As for sleeping in the winter... at Bucknell, I had that one down comforter that I used all year; it was perfect in that it could keep me warm, but it was light enough to not warm me excessively in the summer... and then when I got to Hunt and had the air conditioning on full blast, it just wasn't a problem, heh.

    Before that, I always used a sheet in the summer. I found out really early on that cooling my feet either cooled the rest of my body or at least helped me feel cooler, so I always tried to avoid covering them when I was hot. The sheets I used were generally thick enough that I felt covered, but not so thick that I was suffocating in the heat. Also, the feeling of slipping into a cool sheet on a hot summer night is pretty high up there on my list of good feelings. I don't know if it's just the Asian in me, but I always tried to keep my torso covered. If I tried to rationalize it, I would probably say something like... your core body temperature is that of your torso, so if you keep your torso warm, your body temperature stays up; not only that, but your body temperature drops as you fall asleep, and so does the room temperature, resulting in a somewhat chilly feeling on some hot summer nights, which can cause you to wake up...

    Or something.

    I don't know if that occasion you mentioned where you slept on the floor is the one I'm thinking of, but if it is, you really did get the better side of the deal there. A mattress on the floor versus box springs? What the hell was I thinking?

    Wow, longest comment I've made in a while...

  2. Actually, I was referring to the Williamsburg incident recounted in my 'Friends' blog entry. No pillows, no blankets, certainly no mattress; I had to improvise. It was miserable. As for the incident you're talking about, I might have gotten the better deal, but it was still by no means a good deal. I remember having minimal blanket covering and therefore being freezing cold.

  3. I know exactly what you're talking about regarding a racing mind at sleeptime. That identical thing happens to me every night unless I fall asleep unintentionally. It's quite frusturating to not be able to fall asleep because sleeping is my favorite thing, and then I can't actually do it when I have the chance.

    As for bedside manners, the worst thing for me is how I can't really feel comfortable without lying on my side a bit lopsided, pushing one of my eyes hard into my pillow, and I can't help but to suspect that my continuously deteriorating eyesight is a result of the fact that I am pushing my eyes for 8 hours a day.

    As for sharing a bed, I find it difficult enough to fall asleep when sharing a room. I toss and turn way, way too much to be able to have someone in my bed. Not that I wouldn't try it if given the chance with someone special.