You might have to go back fifteen or twenty years to get to a time when I could fall asleep without the assistance of over-the-counter (then) or prescription (now) pharmaceuticals; while I'm not fighting severe insomnia at the moment, the way I was, say, two or three years ago, I have to live with the constant fear of not getting enough sleep — which fear, of course, keeps me awake. I have never quite comprehended how some people could just, bang, drop off, and not stir for the next seven or eight hours; I couldn't do that on the best day I ever had, whenever that was.

Some have asked why I haven't requested a sleep study. The answer is simple enough: I have no desire to lie in a darkened room for extended periods, under observation, while not actually getting any sleep. No results, plus I've blown off a night I couldn't afford to blow off. Nor do I have any reason to suspect the dreaded Sleep Apnea; while I have occasional symptoms that match the profile, there are other explanations which fit just as well — blurry vision? Hey, it's Flexeril — and my general sleeping positions do not lend themselves to airway blockage. (The only time I sleep on my back, for instance, is if I can't sleep on my side because of some sort of pain. In early '09, bursitis on both sides created exactly this situation, which led to me having to sleep on my back, which led to long periods of horizontal immobility without much actual sleep. Once the bursitis cleared up and I could return to a side position, things improved somewhat.)

So I am pretty well persuaded that this is a psychological ailment, and given the nature of psychological ailments, simply declaring the existence of one may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The one physiological factor that seems to check out positive is bladder activity, of which I have an abundance, due to (1) drinking a hell of a lot of fluids — though only water after 4 pm or so — and (2) taking a diuretic as part of my hypertension treatment. I have noticed that when there's a bathroom scene in a dream, it's just a matter of minutes before I wake up and stagger off to the real bathroom, particularly if that scene seems unduly protracted or exaggerated; if I stand there for fifteen minutes filling up the bowl, clearly I have to go, dammit, and shortly thereafter I will. (I have also noticed that the, um, hardware is rather severely tested at these moments, yet it does not seem to fail while I'm asleep; I have never awakened in a puddle of my own anything, and by "never" I mean "since diaper age.")

Still, the specificity of this particular dream sequence has made me wonder if any of the other Standard Scenes I see while dreaming have any explanations, physiological or otherwise. I've posted a few particularly-unusual dreams that didn't immediately fade upon waking, but one of their unusual characteristics is the general lack of those Standard Scenes.

One such Scene is inside the Very Large House, usually with ginormous picture windows, where I am staying; either I've just moved in, or I'm in the process of so doing. The dimensions of the House are not known; it's nicely squared off in the front, but towards the back, it becomes highly irregular: hallways dart off at strange angles, and rooms become something other than rectangular. Most of the time I don't want to venture back there to find out why. Yet sometimes I must, most often because of a tremendous thunderstorm which I can no longer watch through those windows, and besides, the roof has a leak somewhere.

Also in the general category of unwanted adventure is the Endless Staircase, which I can descend at pretty decent speeds — unlike real life, where staircases slow me down considerably — but which doesn't seem to have a ground floor anywhere in sight. If there's an obvious explanation for this, it's countered by the Driving to the Edge of the Cliff theme, at which point I have to get out of the car, stand in the mud — there's almost always mud — and survey the scene. At no time have I come close to going off the edge.

Perhaps related to the back side of the Very Large House is the Mysterious City Drive, in which I'm nominally in a place I know where somehow nothing seems familiar, especially when I head in the general direction of a known landmark, in which case the streets dissolve into some random non-pattern and I end up either on foot or very much squeezed for space, and of course it's getting dark.

The one thing all these Scenes have in common is that there's only the one character of significance; there may be other people involved, but no one I recognize. Curiously, if there should be someone I recognize in a dream, that someone will not be the same someone I know in real life; I'm guessing that this person is standing in for some archetype to which the subconscious responds. (Which is to say that if I'm dreaming about you, I'm not really dreaming about you; you're just playing a role.)

There is not, incidentally, a lot of sexual content in my dreams, Standard or otherwise, and what there is never works out well. (See, for instance, this example from 2004.)

The only conclusion I've been able to reach about any of this is that the brain prefers to keep busy 24/7, and will not accept orders to veg out. (This may be why I watch so little television these days: wrong sort of narcotic.) I'm currently testing the "Don't mow the lawn on a school night" premise, thinking perhaps that more-than-minimal physical activity late in the day will keep me awake longer than I'd like. There are other forms of activity, at least one of which is best when not performed solo, but that isn't going to happen any time soon. I'm thinking, though, that anything that's likely to cause me more than minimal level of worry can contribute to not getting enough sleep. Left to my own devices on a weekend, I'll probably stay in bed nine or ten hours, minus trips to the john. (Over the past weekend, the pattern went this way: bedtime around 11:30, fall asleep around midnight, wake up at four-thirty, attend to the bladder, go outside and fetch the newspaper, then back to bed until at least 9. Unfortunately, I can't do this on weekdays and still work my typical 9½-hour day; it leaves me with no time for anything. And maybe that's at the heart of it all: the recognition that if my days are numbered, which of course they are, so too are my hours.

The Vent

  1 June 2011

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 Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill