05 July 2006

Sleepwalking or Walksleeping?

I guess a great number of people in the UK watched Mindshock, the program on sleepwalking, on Channel 4 last night.

If you missed it, here's the link, with a lot of the information.

The detail which I found most fascinating (and which is not mentioned on the page linked above) was to do with why it is dangerous to wake a sleepwalker. I always assumed the danger was to the walker, when it is apparently to the person that is interfering, who is likely to get thumped, or worse.

See, rather embarrassingly I can understand this and relate to it on a personal level as well as an academic one. Husband knows well enough never to wake me suddenly and more never to wake me at all by standing by the bed and leaning over me. In that split second that I go from the secure, accepted reality of the dreamsleep to instead the 'real' world where my eyes are fighting what light there is, all is blurry and a strange, silhouetted male figure is stooping over me; well, there's simply not enough time to get sensible about where I really am and what the real situation is, before my animal/gut instincts have reacted to a perceived threat and smacked him in the face or pushed him backward across the room.

Its one thing to say theres not enough time, but the rage hangs around. After that I will be 'wide awake' in a fight or flight sense, even if my brain isn't working properly - panting, hot, stressed, hyperalert, aggressive, furious, shocked, defensive - if Husband were the indignant type or otherwise daft enough to keep hold or get in closer instead of backing off, then its completely likely that I would keep on flipping out at him without taking pause to assess the situation. As it is, when he's put me through that shock but backed right off, my second reaction is still to express more of my exasperation by following him to get in another shove. Its not even like a second reaction, more that I am up and running, defending/attacking furiously and at full pelt.

Its not me, honestly, its all base reactions, and as I properly 'wake' it is like reclaiming control from some animal. I could still be arguing loudly about how that is NOT the way to wake me, yet even if the stream of consciousness feels apparently uninterrupted; husband will still have to calmly tell me one or two of the things that I said or did, because I don't remember.

Its a good job husband is such a nice guy. Its a good job I've mastered denial.

I used to be a sleepwalker.

As a child I terrified my mother, walking down spiral stairwells and trying to get out of the front door, still dreaming yet generally attempting things that a five year old would never dare, in her waking hours.

Later I could still scare her silly because even when I wasn't sleepwalking anymore I was still often fast asleep with one or both eyes wide open, making her frequently wonder if I was dead.

Last to go (and it never truly went) was, more than sleep-talking, sleep-conversing.

I answer people.

Sometimes we have matching issues (say, concern over the time and my need to not be late) so the exchange will appear to them to make perfect sense, even though I am sound asleep the whole time and don't remember a word of it. Sometimes, I am told, my replies make sense as sentences, but that is all. For example, if Husband was to say "Good morning" I might, if dreaming, reply "No I can't because its snowing."

These days, instead of leaving me to keep dreaming until the time means he has to wake me and has to stand over me, he will start gently bugging me there and then, from beside me, from a position that cannot be confused with attack.

I have to wonder, if I was still a sleepwalker and, say, at the edge of a flight of stairs so he had to wake me and hang on for my own safety; would he still be alive? Or would my inner animal have pushed him down the stairs in indignation, and then stormed off to the kitchen for a couple of knives to finish the job (on account of how this bastardarseholesoneofawanker broke my concentration (dream) and that is unforgiveable)?

After watching that programme I genuinely do not know.


Jo said...

Sleep conversing? Yep we do that. She does the talking (and is in deep sleep) and I'll answer her - just trying to get her into a 'conversation' of some sort, as a kind of expereiment I guess.

And a couple of times it's worked, with her making perfectly 'comprehensible' replies whilst we're 'talkling' about something insane (like 'why the onion soup is cold again'...) ;-)

Raggedy said...

I don't watch television so I went and read the article link. I do the talk and answer thing when I am sleeping too. I do not remember one single word. What you said makes sense. I am glad your husband understands and knows to wake you differently. I know I would be terrified if my children walked in their sleep. I am glad it is something you grew out of.
(=':'=) meow hugs
(")_ (")Š from da Raggedy one

doris said...

That is just fascinating Cheryl. Such different reactions to me. Yours with anger and defence whilst mine is full of fear or saving others and on that one occasion a bit of the other!

Don't you think that figure for the number of sleepwalkers in the UK was quite low.... too low. For instance, they don't have me counted in that number, and you?

PS. The word verification is a charming:

fineartist said...

I can't get the picture of you beating the sh*t out of poor Wolfie as he tries to save your life out, of my mind.

And you are such a sweetie, bless your heart, if it were to happen, when you came to, I am sure you would be mortified.

Wolf could really milk the sympathy for years from the experience, I am sure.

I hope you sleep on the ground floor. xx, Lori

Cheryl said...

Lori - yes, although I dislike it intensely, we are in a bungalow!

Doris - sorry you are all mixed up - my dreams are never aggressive and what anyone might think or 'do' in their sleep, as the program confirmed, bears no resemblance at all to the animal instincts triggered by being woken. You saw the freams in the program, I saw the other state.
Dreams are about sorting out how you think, this defensive reaction has no thinking to it, and according to the program is common to all sleepwalkers, so I guess mine just hung around after I stopped walking.
I am actually relieved to hear that its not just me in a permanent subconscious state of high alert more than a decade after my first, bad marriage, which had been my other theory.

Cheryl said...

Or maybe we're all 'freaming'.

doris said...

Yes, I was a bit mixed up in how it came out!

Last night in bed I wondered if what you said reflected on your previous marriage and the different aspects of my experiences reflected on my childhood.

Badaunt said...

I also used to sleepwalk as a child, and still talk a lot, according to The Man. (He goes one better and sings too, sometimes, which I find hilarious.) But I only twice sleepwalked as an adult.

I used to not worry about the sleepwalking thing until I met a woman at university who had a nasty scar over her eye. She told me that it was from falling downstairs when she was sleepwalking as a child. At the bottom of the stairs she hit a vase, cut her eye open, and knocked herself out. But as far as she was concerned she went to bed at home and woke up in hospital with stitches over her eye.

That was worrying.

The Man once dreamed that someone was attacking me, so he thumped the attacker, quite hard. It HURT. I woke up screaming, which woke him up screaming as well, and we screamed at each other for quite a while before we could calm down. ALL THAT ADRENALINE! WHAT TO DO WITH IT?

fineartist said...

Badaunt cracks me up.

I'm sitting here seeing, vividly, the two of them sitting bolt upright screaming into each other's faces, her holding her head...him looking contrite. Heeeeeeeeee.