I’ve always had funny relationship with sleep, a relationship that can be summed up with one sentence: I love it because I usually feel like I need more of it. I have trouble falling asleep because I forget to wind down before I get into bed; then once I’m asleep I grind my teeth, sometimes so badly that I wake myself up from it. I used to suffer regularly from sleep paralysis, and rarely do I have dreams that are anything except nightmares, unexpected sexual encounters or bizarre, unsettling re-dos of everyday situations. Thanks to the sleep troubles I’ve had throughout my life (childhood included), I’ve come to understand that having a really, really good sleep takes as much consideration and preparation as maintain a healthy diet, and is just as important for above average quality of life as eating fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds.
A healthy sleeper will generally wake up in the morning (or afternoon, I’m no time-ist) feeling refreshed and ready to do all the things they’ve planned in order to get themselves further down their chosen life path. But occasionally (and indeed consistently for certain unfortunate individuals), one finds themselves awakened from sleep feeling utterly exhausted, the opposite of what should happen after sleep, from the sense that they have actively been involved in each one of their dreams, that they’ve spent the night running and jumping and searching and stressing; that they’ve had no mental rest to match that of their physical state over the last however many hours. Dreams can fuck with one’s sense of reality. Sleep can become a cruel, harsh mistress.
Living as we do in this age of psychological analysis, most people are aware of the basic symbols present in our dreams, and for many of us- especially if we’ve flirted with the works of Freud and Jung, it is not hard to figure out what our brains are hinting at when we dream of great tidal waves crashing over our heads (overwhelmed with something in one’s life), or when our teeth fall out of our skulls in the middle of some trivial activity (feeling a lack of control over/uncomfortable with one’s physical appearance or perception by others). There are certain symbols that permeate most of the western psyche, symbols that prevail throughout history’s greatest art works- paintings, sculptures, lyrics, film, as well as advertising- symbols that can easily be tied to common fears, anxieties and desires. But the comfort that can be taken from unraveling a disturbing dream hardly changes the fact that the rest of the day (or week) feels weird because of the brutal 7 hour long slasher flick in your head that stopped you from getting the peaceful rest you were hoping for.
That being said, vivid dreams aren’t necessarily the reason for a lack of rest, however crazy and upsetting they can be. In my own experience, I’ve found that two major factors dictate what happens within my brain when my eyes are closed and my heart rate slows.
Going to sleep drunk isn’t the greatest thing for a good sleep, but I do it. My lifestyle is something of an anomaly in that my post-work knock-off drinks happen at about 4am, and they always flow quite freely and rapidly (GODDAMN if we don’t deserve it), sloshing down my gullet one after the other, which usually sends me stumbling home more often than I care to admit. I’ll collapse onto my bed, sleep hitting me more like a brick in the face than like the gentle wash of warmth over mind and body that one longs for. The mornings after these boozy self-abuses and forced forgetting sessions are generally met with an almost unquenchable thirst and an aching of the neck and back. You all know what a hang over is like, but they’re doing us more harm than we realise- going to sleep drunk makes the brain not recognise that it is asleep, so sleepy time serotonin isn’t released like it should be, and that’s no good for healthy brain activity.
The other huge important thing: physical comfort. I’ve never owned a good quality mattress, nor have I ever been very good at pillow choices. Last night I slept on what I assume was a more expensive, superiorly designed mattress than the second hand one currently at home in my temporary bedroom. It was comfortable as fuck, my crooked spine was adequately supported, and the pillows held my neck as gently as a compassionate, unselfish lover. I slept like a fucking baby. I was even feeling refreshed and stable enough to answer the phone call from the unknown number that woke me, something I haven’t done in MONTHS. The phone call was from my psychologist’s secretary, calling to see if I wanted to come in for a catch up appointment. “NO MA’AM,” I could have said. “ALL IS WELL. I NOW KNOW HOW TO SLEEP EFFECTIVELY, ALL I EVER NEEDED WAS A GOOD QUALITY BED!” But I didn’t say that, because, realistically, that great sleep on that great bed was aided a great amount by a little guy named Valium, and I need to get some more because my prescription has run out.
So take heed of my words, this advice I’ll give to you and try to remember for myself: get a good mattress, and don’t go to sleep drunk. If your dreams are fucking with you, it’s because you’ve got shit to figure out. Sort your shit out. Sweet dreams.