Humorous Essay: Sleep Happens

A Humorous Essay by Gilda Bonanno

It was mid-afternoon and I was perched high in the reserved section of the graduate school auditorium.  I had been selected along with a few others for academia’s equivalent of backstage passes at a rock concert – I had been invited to have dinner with the guest speakers after the lecture.  

The only problem was that I was falling asleep.  And not just any sleep, but that deep, overwhelming sleep, like in the poppy fields of The Wizard of Oz, the kind of sleep that heroes are always warned against in the movies when they are lost in a snowstorm.

I recognized the warning signs.  My vision blurred, I began to lose control of my head and neck muscles, my writing became an unintelligible scrawl, drool pooled on my lps, and my eyelids fluttered and then closed.  

Mercifully, before I humiliated myself completed in front of my peers, professors and honored guests by plunging headfirst from my seat, the lecture ended. 

This urge to sleep just happens – it could be any time, anywhere . It is not a medical condition nor is it connected to how much sleep I had the night before or whether what I’m sleeping through is interesting or boring, noisy or quiet.  

Though I suspect it may be hereditary because my mother could fall asleep anywhere and stay asleep through anything (including live at the Ice Capades, the Pope’s visit on TV).  She even once slept right through my father constructing a desk out of wood a few feet away from her (and in the morning, wondered how a desk had suddenly appeared in the bedroom!).

Whatever its causes, sometimes it can be stopped using the following anti-sleep tricks:

  1. Have food and drink on hand to occupy yourself, but be careful since going face-first into your powdered jelly doughnut is not pretty.  Gum can sometime be useful but I’ve found that the rhythmic chewing can also rock you to sleep, then jar you awake painfully when you bite your tongue.
  2. Cough in short bursts, which is supposed to expel carbon dioxide.  I learned this during my few attempts at blood donation, when the nurses would gape at me in horror and ask if I was always this white, and my blood pressure always this low, as they pushed me onto a stretcher (unless I beat them there by fainting first).
  3. Master the art of looking like you’re paying attention when you’re not.  If you have been married for more than 3 months, you have mastered this already.  But don’t look too interested or someone may call on you to speak, which would only reveal that you had not been conscious for the past few minutes.
  4. Remove sharp or hard objects from your path.  I still remember the sound of a man’s forehead slamming the pew when he fell asleep during a quiet church service years ago.
  5. Make lists: things from your fridge to throw out, old boyfriends, the names of your elementary school teachers, anything.  Accuracy and neatness do not count. 
  6. If no one is looking, get up and walk around, jump up and down or slap yourself.  Sing Elvis tunes loudly and with dance moves.  The more restrained version of this is to flex your fingers and toes. 
  7. Assign a designated waker to poke and prod you if you start giving it to the urge.
  8. As a last resort, escape the situation and run home to your bed, where you will be guaranteed to be cured of the urge to sleep.