Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 30 April 2013

To Dream Perchance to Freak!

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” has been a bit of a mantra of mine.

I don’t know whether I wear it as a badge of honour, or whether I mean  it quite pragmatically, but, the fact is that I’ve never been a very great sleeper. 

My mind does not stop, and I always assumed that this was commonplace, that minds were meant always to keep whirring away, and that sleep was incidental, that minds continued to whirr on through that state and out the other side, almost as if nothing had happened at all.

Once I could read, sleep was not a problem, because I could simply read through the night while others slept. Reading is restful, usually, depending on the choice of reading material. Light became the only real problem. As a child, I was denied the light that I needed to read by. Sometimes, adults can be so foolish... well-meaning, of course, because we all need sleep, but misguided, too.

No one asked me why I wanted a light on. No one considered that I wanted to read because I couldn’t sleep. Adults assume that children don’t want to sleep. Why would anyone not want to sleep? I ask you? What sort of sense can anyone possibly make of that? it wasn’t defiance. It wasn’t bloody mindedness. I simply couldn’t do that which others found it natural to do. I wished that I could.

I was left alone in the dark with only fear, and my imagination to feed it.

I digress, however.

When I do sleep, it is a strange experience that I find it hard to explain or quantify, or rate in any way that is meaningful to other people.

The husband puts his head on a pillow, and he sleeps. It is, literally, as simple as that. Eight hours later, he wakes up, and gets up, and his day begins anew. He dreams, and he often talks about his dreams, and he suffered from night terrors that were a sort of prelude to his epilepsy, which is interesting, but he doesn’t experience the kinds of sleep states that I enjoy.

Last night, I had the most extreme of my sleeping experiences, and one that I have not had before, so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s risky. You might all think I’m very peculiar, but I think it’s interesting and a bit weird, and there might even be a story in it. I’m also curious to know whether any of you experience similar things.

As a prelude, let me first tell you that I have dreams in which I’m aware that I’m dreaming, and in which I might even be remembering or even referencing other dreams. For example, I became quite distressed in a dream a week or so ago when I thought I was misremembering something. Then, in the context of the dream, I realised that I was remembering, not facts, but the contents of another dream. I wasn’t remembering facts at all, but then I wasn’t remembering facts in a factual context... Get it? Yeah, it was weird, and, on waking, I had terrible trouble piecing the elements of the thing together. It was as if I have another life in another dimension, a dream dimension where dreams are memories, which weave together to make a life, and which reference each other to make the scheme or the schedule of a life.

I don’t know what this sort of experience signifies, but I do wonder whether a psychologist or even a neurologist might have a field-day. I also wonder whether I’m the sort of person who wants to find out what a psychologist or neurologist might think of any of that.

Two or three weeks ago, I also woke up while having a coherent conversation with the husband. When the conversation began, I was clearly totally (as far as I was concerned) asleep. I woke up talking, while at the same time wondering why I was talking and what I was talking about. I was partially aware of the dream state I had been in, and the conversation I had been imagining or dreaming having with the husband. That was a total freak show. Come to think of it, perhaps the eight or ten or twelve year old mind is far too sensible to put a kid through this shit, and keeps it awake instead. Very wise.

The night before last, and I remember this totally vividly, but without distress, except that the dream was freaky... The night before last I was dreaming that someone was sawing all the locks and handles off my windows. Of course the locks and handles are on the inside, so this is a nonsense, and I was inside a house I didn’t even recognise. Nontheless, in the  dream, that’s what was happening. I heard the rasp of a saw and got up. I found a window without its furniture and I put my head out. I saw the culprit and tried to shout out to him to stop. I couldn’t speak. I tried, but I couldn’t do it. In my dream, I decided that if I closed my eyes and looked away from the culprit, and if I concentrated really hard, I’d be able to scream.

Edvard Munch: The Scream
That’s exactly what I did. Unfortunately, I woke myself and the husband up, and, who knows, half the street, too, screaming in my sleep.

I wasn’t much perturbed. I actually felt somewhat empowered, because I had taken a situation in which I was powerless, and imposed some control on it. The poor husband was pretty galvanised by the whole experience, and horrified, and alert and ready for anything, including the wholesale defence of my honour, for which I can only thank him, and feel rather touched. I can’t help wondering whether reading a book or watching a movie, or just chilling might not have been more relaxing, though.

The point is, this must happen to lots of us, all the time. 

What is it? Why does it occur? Will I make a habit of it? Should I be freaked out?

If you happen to know, perhaps you could enlighten me, because, let’s face it, my poor GP already thinks I’m just a little more than a little off-centre, and if I go to him with this...


  1. Sleep and dreams are a bit of a mystery. Like you, I didn't go to sleep early as a child and was denied the comfort of a light to read by. Now, I sleep in chunks defined by a vivid dream and a spell of wakefulness, three or four times a night. And I remember my dreams, many of which end up in the same locations (creepy house basement being one). If my sleep reduces and the dreams turn into nightmares, I'm headed for a spell of depression. If I need to sleep in the day a few times in a row, I'm often getting better. Knowing your cycle and your sleep pattern is the key, who cares if they are 'normal'? I'm inclined to think sleep is one of the most individual things we do but I'd love to know, do people who remember their dreams find they influence their stories and writing? Maybe not overtly in plot, but maybe in mood and character? Do people who have nightmares write more horror or thrillers? There's that PhD research project right there!

  2. Not a sleep expert; however, there is a transitory event termed a hypnic jerk(sharp movement on the boundary of sleep) which is sometimes ascribed to the brain not turning off the link between imagining movement and it happening, so we move because our dream-self is moving then suffer a disjunction because our body is lying down.

    Screaming is not the same as twitching, but might be the same sort of thing.

    One of the suggested ways of reducing hypnic jerks is to read more before bed so your idea could work.

    My suggestion would be to rule out reasons you might not be sleeping deeply (lumpy mattress, room too hot/cold, &c.) then see a doctor if it continues or worsens.

    1. How lovely of you!

      I could write a treatise on the hypnic jerk. I'd settle for the variety that makes you think you've tripped up a curb, but I have an exaggerated form, which can find me halfway across the room, or, occasionally in another room, feeling very anxious and breathing hard, and I can have that happen over and over again in any given night. I call it hurtling.

      Fortunately that has settled down with my latest medication. It can be a tad wearing.

      It's the mental things that I find really fascinating, but, you're probably right... They probably are all connected.

  3. As far as knowing ur asleep in dreams,especially when things start to get freaky,I can totally relate to.Having suffered,as a child with recurring Nightmare/Night Terrors,this ability became very useful,after many yrs,I learned to recognize that I was dreaming,and wake up!Confused,upset,but awake!This extended to more than my recurring dream,and became something I was quite proud of.Unfortunately,due to a combination of,as u mentioned,medication,and a,type,of self medication,which I cannot recommend,especially for those with ambitions and imagination,I'm lucky if I dream at all anymore!Maybe I don't remember?If I should dream,Emperor forbid,it's too crazy,out of my control,and usually,upsetting!I'm sure that's no help,but it's good to talk/comment!Good luck in ur subconscious:-).