On sleepiness

Is there a more powerful feeling in this life than overwhelming sleepiness when your body aches for sleep, but you fight it, fighting to keep your eyes open and stay awake? We’ve all felt it after a particularly large meal, or during the Sunday morning sermon, or in a boring lecture class (with a boring powerpoint on the screen and the lights turned down low), or at a boring play, concert, or ballet. Your eye lids are heavy and want to swing down and turn off your lights. Sometimes there is no known force of will that can keep your consciousness from slipping off into the dark abyss of sleep. Your body knows you better than you do. There are times when your mind wanders, you start to think of waves lapping on the shore, of a clock’s regular ticking, of sheep jumping over a fence, of a soft wind blowing gently through the trees, of the regular whine of a huge jet engine, and before you know it, you have detached yourself from reality. You can no longer hear the pastor’s voice, you don’t know what song the orchestra is playing, you no longer care what day it is or where you are, you realize you are fishing on some unknown lake and sunlight glints gently off of the waves. You fall asleep, and the transition from awake to asleep has occurred seamlessly, realities intermingle, drift apart, mix, but you are now constructing a different reality, and the body is ignoring what is going on around you. You can try to fight sleepiness by drinking coffee, sitting up straight, focusing on what is being said, but most of that fight is just putting off the inevitable. I don’t think there is a person on earth who hasn’t fallen asleep at the wrong time at some point in their life. I am particularly bad because I like to stay up late, but this has got to change. Falling asleep during the sermon is particularly bad, but I fell asleep at the dentist office the other day while I waited for the dentist to finish some part of the procedure. What can I say, I didn’t get enough sleep the night before and the weather channel was boring that morning. I have fought sleep while listening to conference papers that were a little less than interesting. The thing is that we run from thing to thing like crazy people, but when we stop for two minutes to sit down and listen to some complicated rhetorical argument, the body takes advantage to shut down all systems for a short restorative nap, whether we like it or not. That’s the problem with sleepiness: it isn’t something that one can always control. People are killed, tragically, every day because they have fallen asleep at the wheel of their vehicle. They never intended to do that, kill themselves, but sleepiness is a stealthy adversary, and we are often asleep before we ever realized we were sleepy in the first place. I would like to say that this never happens to me, but it’s happening to me right now, and the only thing that is keeping my eyes open right now is writing this short note on “sleepiness.” If I were to put this down and walk away from the computer, I’m sure I could sleep for a good hour before ever noticing.