Rules for Sleep

I’m feeling half asleep as I write this, but as I’m home and about to curl up in bed with my dogs and a good book, I don’t mind the muzzy feeling in my head just now. I’d thought to take a bath, but decided that I was so tired, Calgon might take me a bit farther away than is safe, so instead, there’s tea steeping, and dogs waiting to bed cuddled. It works.

It’s funny, but when my body is tired, my brain is always racing. So much neural activity is happening tonight, for example, that I just knocked out a lovely vignette in my Harry Potter fanfic series…it’s rough though, so isn’t posted yet.

I love the way the weight of sleep creeps up on me. Some nights, I think I’m wide awake, and then, as soon as Fuzzy’s in bed and the dogs are settled, and the lights are out, I feel my muscles settling, feel each finger and each toe growing heavier. When I was eight or so, a friend’s mother taught a group of us a mild form of self-hypnosis, really a relaxation exercise, that I still use, and being able to identify individual digits is part of it.

I lie flat, and close my eyes, and for a moment, I just revel in the soft pillows under my head (flipped so that the cool side is touching my skin) and the light cover of the cotton sheets above and beneath me. I identify the added weight of the blanket, the comforter, the quilt, many layers because we don’t use electric blankets, and because I like the air temperature to be cold, even though I like the bed temperature warm (this is a recurring theme with me).

I flex my toes, slowly, mentally telling each of them to go to sleep, and then I work from my feet to my head, flexing and releasing each muscle once and telling that part of me to rest. On good nights, I’m on my favorite swing in dreamland before I get to my thighs, on bad nights, I have to do the entire ritual twice.

On really bad nights, the ones where Fuzzy’s at work, and I’ve let my imagination go on overdrive, and am convinced there’s someone in the house (even though the dogs aren’t barking) I have to resort to guided imagery as well. I close my eyes, and take deep breaths, and count backwards from one hundred, imagining each number in glowing candleflame, and forcing myself to start over (25 numbers higher) every time I get sidetracked into any other image. It sounds hokey, but it works.

In some novel, I think it was one of the Low Country novels by Anne Rivers Siddons, a mother speaks of her daughter’s “rules for sleep” – a private ritual for keeping the boogie man at bay during the night. I had my own rules, as a child, and I think some of my habits are left over from when I was a small child with an imagination gone wild.

An unofficial list of my five-year-old self’s Rules for Sleep might have looked something like this:

Anything Under the Covers is Safe.
This was the most important rule. Blankets and sheets are bedtime armor, and the more of your body you can cocoon, the better, though it’s important to leave a breathing space. Suffocation is bad.

Doors Should Remain Closed.
This freaked my babysitters out – they claimed that everyone else wanted their door open. I didn’t. In my childish logic, I assumed that if whatever was after me had to go through a door, I’d have time to hear it coming.

Stuffed Animals Good. Real Animals Better.
Even my wuss of a chihuahua will growl at someone he perceives to be a threat to me – the poodle I had when I was five was completely fierce, however. The white fluffy lamb look was just an act. But, when the family dog is indisposed, an army of carefully selected, well-loved stuffed animals works well as an honor guard, patrolling the corridors of bedtime.

Light Fixes Everything
No matter how scared you are – it could be the worst nightmare, like the one I had after reading some novel, that my mother had no feet and the room had no floor (the latter was from a Hardy Boys mystery) – turning on the light makes everything okay. That scary shape that looks like a monster in the dark, is revealed, by lamplight, to be the sweater on the post of your bed.

When I was a little girl, I had to have a bit of reading before bed, a glass of water at my bedside, a light I could reach without having to get up, and either a stuffed animal, or my dog, to keep me safe. Today, I still have to have the water, and I generally have the dogs, and of course, there’s Fuzzy, and I /can/ sleep without any of them.

But why should I?