bluebeard

Assorted thoughts about sleep

Originally published at PeterCHayward.com/blog. You can comment here or there.

When I was little, I used to hate sleep. It was such a waste of precious time, and I hated the fact that if we didn’t have to spend eight-plus hours laying down with our eyes closed each night, we’d be able to get so much more done!

In grade 11 (the second-final year of high school in Australia) I tried very hard in all my subjects (something that stopped as soon as grade 12 came long) and as a result got very little sleep. Since then, I’ve had a much stronger appreciation for no longer being awake – when I’m tired, it’s rare for me to choose anything over sleep. Absence makes the heart grow sleepier and all that.

Another new-found joy: naps. I truly love to nap.

I actually see this as a good thing – if we’re going to spend a third of our lives sleeping, I’d rather enjoy it, and since I embraced sleep and started doing more of it, I’ve been much more productive during my waking hours.

One of the purposes of dreams is your subconscious sorting out information that your conscious mind hasn’t had a chance to deal with yet, according to some site I read once. That’s why you’ll dream about whatever’s happening in your life at the moment, and it’s the reason I try not to go to sleep when I’m angry or stressed; I don’t want to spend all night dreaming about whatever it is that’s making me feel that way.

That fact might be true, or (more likely) my brain might just be extremely suggestible, but ever since I heard it my dreams have contained little tidbits of information that I’ve picked up over the previous few days. I learned that New Zealanders emigrate to Australia at a startling rate, and that featured in a dream the next night.

Reddit.com/r/todayilearned is pretty much a dream-generator for me.

About two weeks before we film each episode of We Should Know Better, I dream that it’s show-night, all the guests are there, the audience are filing in…and we’ve forgotten to write the questions. If you’ve ever seen an episode, it may or may not be obvious how much time we spend on the questions, but it ranges from “hours” to “days”. I don’t know why my subconscious insists on routinely freaking me out like that, but it does serve as an incentive to get the questions finished as early as possible.

Last time, I also dreamt that I forgot half of the guests’ names, and that the audience refused to sit where they could see the stage (which was in a giant football field, of course) because it didn’t have sufficient wheelchair access. I think Friday Night Lights is partially to blame for that one.

My brain adores many things, with “story structure” right near the top of the list. All my life, my brain has taken the random collection of images that come to you when you’re sleeping, and turned them into a structured story, with beginning, middle and end. Sometimes it has to fudge it a little, but the beauty of dreams is that you can retroactively add information in. Getting to the end of the dream and need a twist to have been set up from the beginning? Done. Dream-style.

The best description for it that I can think of is “a Peter-specific movie, each and every night.” I’ve written more than a few of them down, and the last TV pilot I filmed actually came directly from one of these well-structured dreams. (though it turned from a sitcom starring me as the sidekick into a drama featuring Laura Jane Turner in the role my brain wrote for me. I’ll forgive her some day.)

Sleep, if you can’t tell, is a delight for me, and even if it wasn’t mandatory, I’d still probably indulge from time to time. Waking up, not so much.

My absolute favourite way to wake up is to someone I love bringing me a cup of tea. My girlfriend is now the one who sleeps in, but when I used to work nights, she’d wake up and want to hang out with me. The deal we struck was that she could wake me up any time after 10, as long as she was holding a cup of tea.

Since I started working from home and getting up at a more reasonable hour, I’ve set four alarms on my phone, for 8:00am, 8:05am, 8:10am and 9:00am. On mornings when I’m springing out of bed at the sound of the first alarm, the rest are superfluous, and mainly serve to remind me to actually start working when it hits 9. On mornings when I desperately need more sleep (ie: Monday mornings), I wake up at 8, turn the next two alarms off, and allow myself an hour of extra sleep.

(the 8:05 and 8:10 are because I’ve been known to wake up, turn the alarm off, and then go straight back to sleep. The threat of two more alarms generally makes me tense enough to avoid drifting off again, though there have been times in my life when I’ve woken up, turned all three alarms off, and then slept through whatever important event I’d set them for. Most recently: the surgery I’d been waiting more than three months for.)

(they took me even though I was three hours late. I was overwhelmingly grateful, and before important appointments I now set even more alarms, and put my phone somewhere that I can’t reach from the bed.)

As of today, I’m setting one more daily alarm – 8:30pm. Before I started living the 9-5 lifestyle, my bed-time would range from midnight to 2am. If I do that while trying to get up early and do a full day’s work, the following morning ends up consisting mainly of me staring into the screen and making endless cups of tea. The 8:30 alarm is to tell me to start wrapping up what I’m doing, and get ready for bed. Not go to bed, but to at least stop staring at screens until the next morning.

We had people around for dinner last night, and afterwards chatted for several hours, and then watched TV for a few hours more. It was a great night, and I still dragged myself out of bed at 9am this morning, but it’s just hit 11:15 and I’m only just now finishing my first-thing-in-the-morning blog post.

I make sure to structure my Mondays so I don’t have to do anything wildly creative. Today, for example, I am going to watch over some speeches, find some snappy stand-alone quotes, and assemble a rough cut of a trailer for a client. I may also do some photoshopping. My brain is too fuzzy to do anything that requires any more skill than that.

Writing? That’s Tuesday work.

What are your unusual sleep-based habits? Do you use alarms, or wake up organically? What are your dreams like? Tell me your weird sleep stories, because I actually find these things interesting.