Sleepwalking in Search of Order

canstockphoto2651860I was a sleepwalker for a good portion of my early childhood. My family life was chaotic and stressful, made more so by the fact that I would get up to sit in the bathtub in the middle of the night or put on six layers of clothes and stand over my brother’s bed swaying slightly. It was creepy. He might have some sleep issues now, too.

Sleepwalking is frightening, especially in the face of an angry, confused parent who doesn’t understand why you have decided to pee in the kitchen garbage can. You are woken up, with no idea of where you are or how you got there and then sent abruptly to bed. You begin to wonder what else you might have done or what you will do the next time you fall asleep. You don’t trust yourself.

When I was six and my mother was in the hospital having my second brother, my other brother and I stayed with an elderly lady who babysat us. We were put into a room on cots. It was dark and cold. My brother fell asleep immediately, but I lay awake, listening to the strange noises of an unfamiliar house.

In the morning, I was bathed in warm light. I woke up in a big comfortable bed covered in a pink lacy, puffed-up comforter. It was like falling asleep in a dungeon and waking up a princess in a castle. I had no idea where I was, but it was so wonderful that I burrowed down into the covers and went back to sleep. I found out at breakfast time that I had gotten up in the middle of the night and shoved a 70 year old woman out of her bed.

I didn’t sleepwalk every night, but with the potential that I might, falling asleep felt like a gamble. I remember trying to keep myself awake, not realizing that exhaustion itself was a precursor to many incidents.

The last time I remember sleepwalking was when I was 11, on a camping trip with my church group. The leader of the group had a Great Dane named Treasure Lee, who was tied up outside her tent ostensibly to keep guard. The entire camp was awoken at 1am by Treasure Lee’s barking. And there I was, standing in my long johns, two feet in front of this manic dog, undisturbed by the barking or the voices around me. I casually turned around, went into my tent, crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep, long before the rest of the camp would return to theirs.

My distrust of myself in a sleeping state accompanied me well into my twenties. I dreamed that I walked into a neighbor’s apartment, had an entire conversation with him (his side was the repetition of a question – “what are you doing here?”) and then went back to my apartment. To this day, I don’t know if it was a dream or if I’d completely freaked some dude out. I’m only grateful that I’m not a nude sleeper (for this very reason).

These days, I’m too damned tired to worry if I’m making the neighborhood rounds in my jammies. I’ve gone from sleepwalking to snoring like a freight train and finally admit that I’m a bit of a sleep-disordered person. Having a baby turned me into a light sleeper and now middle-aged hormones complicate the picture, since I can enjoy random night sweats. It’s a damned party and a long night’s sleep is an elusive creature.

I try to see a pattern and the one that emerges is all about change and chaos. Different environments, circumstances, stress levels have an impact. Whereas I’m generally a calm, focused person during a crisis in the light of day, at 3am my body and mind say “yeah, we helped keep things calm for you, but um, we have a few issues to work out right now“.

I often find myself writing at 3am now, having given up any pretensions to sleep. I’ve become a productive writer on and offline. My body and mind now tell me “you’ve bottled up shit for years, we’re going to work this out right now.” I wonder, once I’ve done all the therapeutic writing, finished my novel about a dysfunctional family, blabbed about all my weirdness and occasional misery, if I’ll sleep. And then I imagine a sleep so deep, so warm and welcoming, that I might never want to wake up.

45 Comments on “Sleepwalking in Search of Order

  1. I used to talk in my sleep. Depending on who you’re with and what you’re saying, it can be very interesting. Although not as frightening as walking in your sleep.

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    • There was some talking involved as well, but nobody could understand what I was saying (or at least that’s what they said!). Sleep becomes a weird thing when you find out you don’t just lie there quietly!

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      • Have you ever been tempted to install a nanny cam so you could see exactly what you do?

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        • you’re probably right. I should try to remember that curiosity killed the cat 🙂

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  2. Have you seen “Sleepwalk with Me”? A terrific movie, about much more than the phenomena of sleepwalking.

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    • Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorite comedians. I’ve been to his live performance as well as having practically memorized all his standup CDs. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but from his stories, mine about sleepwalking seems a bit anemic.

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  3. Ah, this explains a lot. I always wondered how you could be so prolific. Now I find out that you write when everyone else stops to sleep.

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    • And this is also why I can’t read or watch TV after 8pm – I’m ready for bed! For now, I just have to roll with it and enjoy the writing that I can get done.

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  4. I, too, was a sleepwalker as a child (in fact, in response to one of the few writing challenges I have participated in, I wrote about one of my childhood sleepwalking experiences going to my neighbor friend’s to play in the middle of winter!) — I seemed to outgrow it about the same age, too. My oldest son has been our sleepwalker/sleeptalker — I told him the other night while I was up late working at the computer, I heard him yelling repeatedly “oh sh#!, oh sh#!, oh sh#!” — of course, he can’t remember what he might have been dreaming about at the time, but it was pretty funny. At least he didn’t come roaring down the hallway while saying it, as he often does, where I then have to stop him, tell him it’s the middle of the night and time to go back to bed and he stares at me with open, vacant eyes, usually says nothing or mumbles something, and turns around to go back to bed, remembering nothing the next day. ~ Kat

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    • For whatever reason, my mother decided I should be fully awake before being sent back to bed, so I can remember most of the incidents at home. I have no actual recollection of events that occurred away from home, which is a little scary!

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  5. When my kids were younger and camping in a tent in the backyard I found my son up and looking around. “What are you looking for?” I asked. “I’m looking for self-pity,” he said. I was kind of astounded at a little kid saying this and I didn’t realize he was still asleep. “What?” He then proceeded to explain to me the definition of pity…
    We still laugh about it.

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  6. My daughter used to sleepwalk a little when she was very young. Not that often and it was pretty safe (apart from trying to pee in strange places). I’m just glad she never had night terrors. I’ve heard its just as hard to wake up from this and can be terrifying for everyone.
    It’s interesting that your body has found the time, now, to start to work things out- at 3am no less. We do what we need for resolution when we are ready. Perhaps consciously you have not made the intention to start to address the past, but your sleepless mind has.

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  7. That’s pretty scary — there are so many things that might have happened. Sleep has never been a problem for me — I grew up next to a railway line and a major highway. I have been known to sleep through earthquakes, babies crying, and various other loud things.

    Hmmm, there are folks wandering the hall outside my office. I think I’ll just put my head down here on my desk …

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  8. My youngest brother used to sleep walk. One night my mom and I got off work late and I dropped her home. I went in for a minute – it must have been about 2:30 in the morning. My 16 year-old brother came running into the front room in his tidy whities with an axe in his hand – he said, “Stay here! I’ll get them!”, and he ran out the front door. I wondered if it was safe to go after him. He actually came back in and went to sleep and had no recollection. We made sure that he had no idea where sharp objects were after that.

    Me – I could sleep through an earthquake – wait, I have actually done that. Olympic caliber sleeper. It’s the waking that I find difficult. Can’t imagine waking to find I had been doing things I couldn’t recall.

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    • Fortunately my sleepwalking days were behind me. I think I was so bone-tired in the Army, that even my sleepwalking self couldn’t be roused! I love Chekhov, but didn’t recall that particular story – thanks for the link! And I’m off to read it…

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  9. Ah that deep sleep now wouldn’t that be the thing..

    I’ll bet my family can out dysfunction yours 😉 ha ha ha looking forward to the book.

    Years back, during a stressful period I used to yell in my sleep. I haven’t done it in years that I know of but twice last year, while at a Buddhist retreat blissfully calm during the day I yelled up a storm at night scaring the roomies. (and myself when told about it)…………..hate that!

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    • Screaming at a Buddhist retreat?! That’s a story that’s worth telling – everyone’s inner peace went straight out the window with that yell. Very funny (since it’s not me)! I’m pretty sure the that there are many families that can out-dysfunction mine. The family in my novel seems tame by comparison (except for that whole hiding a homicide for 30 odd years).

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      • Ha ha yes it is funny when you put it like that 🙂 Guess I did my bit towards making those others Practice !!
        Hey I really don’t want to out-dysfunction you or anyone so I’ll be happy to read and be outdone…this is the novel you’re working on (with the homicide)?

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        • Yes – I started out just writing about the effects of alcoholism and dysfunction on a fictional family and ended up killing a couple of characters. That’s the thing I learned about writing during the NaNoWriMo craze – the story and characters take on lives of their own!

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        • My goal is to finish re-writes by the end of March. I have to re-write entire sections that I spewed out at the end, in a desperate move to meet the word count. I hope to start shopping it about in the fall.

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        • I barely made it, with the entire family down with flu through the entire month. I ended up writing thousands of words in the last few days, which is why so much needs to be rewritten. It was a good exercise, but very challenging if you have anything else on your plate. If you end up doing it this year, we can be writing buddies, since I plan on doing it again!

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    • Thank you – that’s so kind of you! I’m a little behind posting awards and referrals to other bloggers, but eventually I’ll catch up. Thanks again!

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  10. EEE. That is so scary. I’m glad nothing tragic happened. I recently read about a guy who murdered his wife in the midst of sleep-confusion–he thought she was an intruder. He had sleep-walked all his life. What IS the past-tense of that? Slept-walked? Ha!

    I’ve been an insomniac my whole life. It takes an hour or two to fall asleep at night, I wake up often, I wake up early–I never get enough sleep. Compound that with two children who wake up at alternately odd hours of the night, and I’m screwed.

    It has caused chronic pain and depression–not being able to refresh all those neurotransmitters and hormones takes its toll. Such a vicious cycle.

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    • There’s a pretty huge spectrum for sleep disorders, but sleep deprivation overall can really impact everything from your health to your ability to deal with depression or other issues. I’ve learned to rest a lot more, in terms of just shutting my eyes for a few minutes, even just laying down without sleeping helps a lot with being chronically tired. Sorry you are struggling with those issues. For me, exercise has been the most effective thing for improving my sleep, but I still wake up at odd hours – throw in a middle-aged bladder and it’s showtime every couple of hours!

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    • Sleep is really one of those things we take for granted until we can’t do it effectively! Most kids outgrow their sleepwalking, so yours probably will, too.

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  11. The funny but true stories are the best! Thank you. Well done and got me laughing. Please don’t ever take Ambien. 🙂

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