Old habits, new contexts: Eating, walking, and texting in my sleep

Cartoon by Max Saltman (C’21).

By Luke Gair
Executive Staff

I found myself standing before the microwave a few nights back. It purred, barely lighting my kitchen with its sickly glow. On a paper plate sat a tortilla, the soft kind, with waxy cubes of Costco cheddar encircling the edges. I watched in relative awe as each piece bubbled into viscous, greasy pools. I do not remember reaching into the refrigerator, or even leaving my bed, but I still relished the discernible flavors of stale and hot.

Sometimes, when I am under incredible amounts of stress, I’ll carry out seemingly simple and menial actions in my sleep. Often, I’ll remember precisely whatever I said or did, but rarely can I explain the reasoning behind it. 

In the early hours of a spring morning, still steeped in this hypnagogic state, I slid my bedroom window open and rested my chin on the lowered rail. The forest of pines behind my home stood completely still, motionless and attentive to the twilight that seemed to rest just above the crown of each tree. The humming silence and morning chill feel achingly familiar this time of year, reminding me of journeys back to my dorm after a long night in the library. 

Some days, I’ll wake up with Little Debbie snack wrappers stuck to my arm, the sign of a delightful midnight treat, or others, like this one, I’ll stick my head out the window and take in the day before my cerebrum even processes what I’m doing. I do not remember unlocking my cell phone and writing to a friend from college, “it’s so nice outside today.” They still thought it was nice. 

Though Buzzfeed quizzes and Reddit threads suggest that dreams bloom from our veiled subconscious, I can almost always take my own at face value. I’m never combing the depths of the Internet for how monsoons or slot machines relate to my day-to-day. 

I recently dreamt that two of my best friends showed up at my old dorm room and asked for a sleepover. I cried after waking up because my brain, REM, and other parts of my subconscious had wholly convinced me of the warmth I felt when pressing my cheeks to theirs. In my bedroom at home, I was alone with the fan whirring above me. Hours away from either of those people. 

In this case, my brain simply performed what I already knew: I miss the time that is no longer mine. 

During the long days in Sewanee where I’d be in meetings until 10 p.m. or a looming deadline hung over me, I’d tell myself, and sometimes others, “I’m so ready to be done with this.” I relished in the thought of feeling free from the unbreakable chains of productivity. 

In my conscious state more recently, I’m left in a strange limbo that finely rests just between the realms of productivity and ineffectuality. As a result of this, my subconscious has relentlessly binded me to these bouts of near-slumber. 

I’ve tried to appreciate what these episodes bring, and ultimately, I think the temporary nature of it all makes me feel at ease. The active and unaware conscious that I’ve been teetering between takes shape as some strange relief. 

Each morning when I wake up, my time away from the Mountain forces me to constantly feel that dream-to-reality jolt, regardless of whether I had actually stirred in the night. The separation and the distance hurts, but eventually I collect myself. My muscles loosen and I no longer clench my jaw. 

When I think of Sewanee sharing the exact same morning that I have awoken to, I imagine the campus punctuating the Cumberland Plateau and bathing under an open sky. My mind drifts and I feel the same comfort that accompanied the early morning nostalgia, or my late night meal. 

And for just a few minutes, everything feels okay. 

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