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My Life in Sleep-Walks

The other morning, I woke my three-year old son up, to get him dressed and to take him to nursery. Stumbling and bleary-eyed, he made his way from his bed to the bedroom door, and protested by saying: “I don’t really want the day, Mummy. I want to keep night a bit longer.”

I get that, totally.

There has been countless scientific and social research done on how much sleep an avergae adult needs, and physiological, gender, age and medical factors aside, it is generally acknowledged that a “good night’s sleep” which leaves you refreshed and ready for the day ahead, is optimally achieved at around 8 hours.

I have never really managed 8 hours, I don’t think.

When I was a teenager I had insomnia. Proper insomnia – not just a “grrr” feeling of struggling to sleep, but an actual condition whereby some nights I just didn’t sleep at all, other nights I drifted off but woke up anywhere between 6 and 10 times, and other nights where I went to sleep, but then woke at 2am raring to go, but practically dead by 7am. All of this was compounded by the fact that since childhood, I have also been a sufferer of sleep talking and sleep walking.

I say I was a sufferer – probably more true to say that my parents and sister suffered from my sleep walking. My friends who stayed overnight in our teens were sufferers of my condition, and a couple of former boyfriends and now my husband are sufferers too. Because, quite frankly, I’m used to not sleeping very well now. I get by on around 4 hours a night. And if I happen to sleep walk and talk during that time, it’s not me who’s disturbed.
Although, that depends on what your definition of “disturbed” is.

I have literally dozens and dozens of examples of my ridiculous nocturnal behaviour:

There was the time that I “sold” hotdogs outside my bedroom door for a couple of hours. My Dad came onto the landing to see me meticulously placing pencil cases on the floor and accepting invisible money, before retreating into my bedroom and then coming out and doing the same thing again.

There was a time that I was sharing a bed with my (then) 6-year old sister, when I heroically “rescued” her from a giant gorilla called Diana, who (in my sleep-deprived world) was sitting in the corner of our bedroom getting ready to pick our bed up and swing it out of the window. My sister was, understandably, far more freaked out by me telling Diana to stop it, than she was by the imaginary gorilla herself.

There was the time at University when my boyfriend had come to stay, where I (for some reason) got up in the night believing that I had thrown his return train ticket into the wheelie bin. It wasn’t until I was outside our double-locked front door (having come down from the upstairs flat) and onto the street, dressed in pink pyjamas and giant rabbit slippers with floppy ears, that I remembered we didn’t have a wheelie bin, so consequently went next door to look through theirs. The neighbour, that I was too embarrassed to face for the next 7 months, and who caught me in mid-rummage must have got quite a surprise at my rapidly running away self, fleeing up a concrete flight of steps, falling over grazing my knees and ripping my pyjamas. But not as much of a surprise as my boyfriend got when I returned to the bedroom covered in blood – or, indeed, myself in the morning when I realised that it hadn’t, in fact, been part of a dream, and that my boyfriend’s train ticket was in his wallet where he had put it the day before.

Because that’s the thing. Sleepwalkers – we kind of know what we’re doing, but we don’t really believe it so we just carry on. I generally remember in the morning what I’ve done – sometimes when reminded by my sleepy husband, and sometimes when it just comes to me, and I remember talking garbage or rummaging in cupboards for no good reason.

The thing is, it’s still happening. And I hate looking up reasons on the internet, because they usually tell me that I must be stressed, or hysterical, or anxious, or over-worked or depressed. Or have fever, asthma or sleep apnoea. And,genuinely, none of these are the case. Nor am I talking hallucinogenic drugs or drinking lots. I don’t even eat cheese after 6pm. The only other alternative I can see, is that I am prone to bouts of psychosis. Either that, or it’s to do with my chaotic sleep pattern, which isn’t really chaotic, just short.

Whatever the reasons, I’ve been doing this since I was an infant, and I’ve never grown out of it. It looks like I probably never will, so my long-suffering husband and my night-time-keeping son are stuck with this for the foreseeable.

The latest one was the most disturbing one yet, for several reasons – see what you think; My husband was at work, when a colleague answered a phone. She chatted to the person on the end of the phone for a few seconds, and then handed the phone to my husband. My husband took the call. It was me. I asked him if he knew anything about where my bag was. He said he didn’t. I said “No problem, I’m sure I’ll find it later.”

It all seems fairly normal, until you realise that it was 5am and I didn’t wake up until 06:30.

Still, at least it gives us something to talk about at dinner parties.

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