I used to be a “disordered” sleeper. That, at least, is the term I’ve heard applied to someone with a sleep schedule as erratic as mine was. One night I’d start nodding off after dinner, and the next night I’d be up till 3:30 in the morning. There was no rhyme or reason to it that I could see.


Falling asleep in those days was so much more exciting. Especially when, just as I was drifting off, I experienced a hypnic jerk—a muscle spasm accompanied by a feeling of falling. Red alert! Suddenly I was plunging down an elevator shaft, my arms and legs flailing madly in the air. My heart was hammering in my chest, my breathing ragged. And even when the breathing finally slowed, a racing sensation in my torso and limbs could keep me tense long into the night.

A voice then came out nowhere: “Thought you were falling asleep, my pretty? Not . . . so . . . fast.”

Another scenario was this: after a perfectly fine day—work gone smoothly, family happy, a special delivery even come in the mail—I was just about to part with consciousness when, tzasssssssss! A plane exploded in a fireball overhead! Or a trestle gave way and a train plunged into a valley below! A sociopath was clapping a hood over my head and tying a noose around my neck! I was face to face with a man with a gun!

Horrific images came hurtling out of my unconscious just at the moment I was drifting off. They all wreaked a familiar havoc: pounding heart, labored breathing, and stress hormones racing around my body causing mayhem for a couple hours.

A Gentler Send-Off

There were other nights when sleep announced its coming in tantalizing snippets carved from dreams. A strange child lept on a man in a Teflon overcoat and slid down him with glee. Or I picked up the phone and ordered an “Isthmé” T-shirt, an act that made perfect sense on the threshold of sleep. A sweet burbling sensation in my brain accompanied these images. It was a signal that I was in fact on the verge of sleep, one of the purest pleasures I knew.

All that changed when I gave up my disorderly habits for the more regular sleep schedule I observe today. In bed by 11:30 or 12, and up at 5:30. No jerks or spasms as I’m falling asleep, no crashes of planes and trains. No cute dreamlets, either. Just a clean and pedestrian break with consciousness, what I always imagined falling asleep should be.

Sound boring? I could certainly never write about it in a blog. But I’m not tempted to return to my wayward habits. Some things are better off unexceptional, and sleep is one.

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

One Comment

  1. I thought I was the only one with those dreams…



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