My Greatest Fear #32: Drowning in My Sleep

People do weird things in their sleep, don’t they?

When I was a young boy, I used to sleepwalk when I had to go to the bathroom. My parents once found me climbing up a bookshelf; they always asked me what I was doing. I think that time I explained to them that I was trying to reach higher ground due to some sort of bad guy on the ground.

My favorite story happened when I was around 11 or 12. In the middle of the night, my mother found me sitting at the top of the stairs. She knew I was sleepwalking, and because I’m partially conscious when I sleepwalk, I actually remember this exchange.

She said, “Hey Jamey, what are you doing up here?”

I briefly explained the obvious: The horses were coming for me, and it seemed like the best idea to strip naked and run out into the yard to hide. (Apparently even back then my default plan of action was to get naked and panic.)

In a calm voice, Mom said, “Jamey, horses can’t come up stairs. You’re the safest up here. Come on, let’s go to the bathroom.”

The explanation made perfect sense at the time. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that horses are perfectly capable of walking up stairs. They just usually choose not to.

In my adult life, I’ve become more of a sleep talker instead of a sleep walker. Girlfriends have commented on this, and I always wished they could have recorded some of these conversations, just in case they could give me some deeper insight into the way my brain defragments information as I sleep.

That brings us to two nights ago. I was sleeping on my stomach, and I felt a sharp pain on my right thumb. I didn’t completely wake up, but I also wasn’t completely asleep. I specifically remember these thoughts:

Wow. That really hurt. But it can’t be that bad. I’m sleeping, after all. There’s no way I’m bleeding. I could dab it on the sheets to check just in case. Nah, I’m really comfortable. I don’t want to open my eyes. I’m sure it’s fine.

I woke up the following morning to find little splotches of blood all over my sheets. Yuck.

That brings me to the crux of this blog entry. The human body is fully capable of hurting itself while your mind sleeps. Isn’t that just a little bit scary?

The scariest situations to me is suffocating in my sleep. I wrote “drowning” because that’s what’s happened in my dreams the few times this has happened. I’m drowning in the dream, and I wake up a little bit, but not enough to know that I’m not actually drowning. The cause of the dream is that my face is buried in the pillow, so I truly can’t breathe. Of course I’ve always figured it out in time, but there’s always a few seconds of panic. Fortunately that hasn’t happened in a while.

Am I alone here, or have you ever been caught in that dangerous space between asleep and awake?