zhmort (zhmort) wrote,

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Remembering Times When The Sleep-O-Meter Was So Very Un-Pegged

One of the things I heard the most about prior to becoming a new father was the sleepless nights I could expect in the beginning. In fact, in an unscientific survey, the day Tommy was born, I sent a phone message to my boss to let her know it had happened and that I was officially going on "family leave", and she translated that into an email message and sent it out to our department at work to let everyone know. Later, when I logged back into my work Inbox and checked email, I saw there were several congratulatory responses.

Of those, about 30% of them said, "Enjoy/Prepare for/Welcome to the sleepless nights!"

Naturally, they knew they were 100% correct in this prediction. I didn't know it yet, but suspected they were telling the truth, and wondered just how much my baby would be like their babies.

One of the reasons I felt relatively confident going into fatherhood, at least with regard to the challenge of perpetual exhaustion, was that I had been through something similar (and hopfefully, harder) when I went through Basic Training in the Army. Of course, I was much younger then, and I've become keenly aware as I've aged that my ability to forfeit sleep on a whim ("Hey, we're up so late, we may as well wrap it around!") has all but gone away. On the other hand, I assumed that Basic was harder than parenthood from an exhaustion standpoint because of the grueling physical challenges, which increased my need for sleep dramatically. (If I could have been "lying on my recliner" through most of Basic instead of "beating my face", I assume the lack of sleep would have been much more tolerable.)

As it actually turned out, I would have to say that Tommy's birth and first few weeks were easier than Basic in terms of sleeping, much to my relief. However, it has been harder than anything I've done since then, so I definitely feel like I've gotten soft in my old age. Living in Northern California hasn't helped, I'm sure. I mean, it's right there in that Sunscreen song... "Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft." :-) We haven't left NorCal yet, so I'm thinking this means it's time to pack the family up in our covered wagon and cross the Rockies a few dozen times per winter over the next few years, so we can be sure to maintain and extend our newfound level of hardness. ;-)

Anyway, my last post (about trying to sleep but instead lying awake in a very conscious, problem-solving state) reminded me of a quite different experience I'd had in Tommy's first few days. I got so sleep-deprived during that time that I noticed something. Each time I would try to shut my eyes to get some sleep, in just a matter of seconds, I would be dreaming while awake.

Many of my friends have been interested in so-called "lucid dreaming". In lucid dreaming, you realize you are dreaming, and although this fact filters up into your conscious mind, you don't wake up from your dream. At that point, it's fun to try to take control of the dream, and do stuff like flying around and having sex with everyone and stuff.

Well, what I experienced in the hospital when trying to nap was not lucid dreaming, but something I would think of as roughly its opposite. I was awake, and I knew I was awake. I could open my eyes at any time and look around, and be conscious of the fact that I hadn't drifted off to sleep yet. But I was so deprived of real sleep (REM sleep), that just closing my eyes would allow me to drift into a dream-like state, where the normal, rational rules of consciousness didn't apply. I would start imagining situations and conversations that involved real people, but that were totally fictional and made-up on the spot. There was no rhyme or reason to what I was imagining. It wasn't even like I was working out conflicts or trying to resolve issues. I was just making up stuff, without effort, because that was what my brain felt like doing. So I think that basically I was dreaming while awake. My brain needed it so much, it was willing to intrude on my conscious time, as long as I would take the minor step of closing my eyes to enable it.

Side note: to the best of my knowledge, I have never hallucinated in my life.

In thinking about this dreaming while awake thing a little bit, I realized that my right-before-I-go-to-sleep almost-dreaming brain time has changed since I was a boy. These days, it's all about solving problems. I think about work. I manage projects. I think about loved ones, issues with them, conflicts, etc., and I work things out, or at least mull them over as much as possible so that later I will be further in my thinking when it comes time to actually solve the problems. And it's actually fruitful. When I was young, I did a lot of pre-sleep thinking, but mostly what I remember is that being the time my imagination would run wild. I would have dream-like fantasies, in which I could fly, or run really fast, or be the boyfriend of any girl at school, and generally use my fantasy powers to be and do anything I wanted.

I don't know why getting older has meant that kind of fantasizing has gone away, but it certainly has. I guess I want to optimistically say that it's because I am more self-actualized now. I have a lot of what I want to get out of life, and imagining stuff that will never happen just doesn't appeal to me as much. More pessimistically, I guess you could say I don't have nearly as much imagination as I did when I was a child.


I was going to write about the specifics of how my sleep schedule has gone since Tommy was born, but I got through about a week of that before I got bored of writing it. I figure if it's too boring to write, it's too boring to read. (It's too bad the inverse is not always true. ;-)


NOTE: This entry was originally posted to my zderek journal.


Original Comments:

2003-12-08 11:03 pm

"y'all see the size of that chicken? cock-a-doodle goddamn doo!"
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