January 19, 2006

When you close your eyes...

Last night, I shook Sam out of a sound sleep to ask: "What are we going to do about the spiders and the sapphires?"

He said I was very persistent, repeating the question a few times before finally dropping the issue and returning to sleep.

This morning, I remembered nothing of this exchange or the dream that inspired it. I was somewhat curious - I detest spiders, enjoy sapphires, and have never consciously considered a connection between the two. I was also horribly embarrassed.

This was hardly the first time I had talked in my sleep. My college roommates would occasionally regale our friends with tales of my nonsensical somniloquies, and I would blush and try to deny each story.

What is it about my sleep talking that makes me so self-conscious? I'm comfortable enough with this quirk to expose it to the anonymous public in my blog, and yet I am terrified at what I might say after falling asleep tonight.

I blame that cheesy '80s song that goes "I hear the secrets that you keep... when you're talking in your sleep" (I apologize if it's now stuck in your head and remains there for the rest of the day).

I am not some well-guarded fortress of secrets. I will happily divulge any detail of my life to anyone who shows an interest; I wear my emotions on my proverbial sleeve; I blog with abandon (how post-modern!).

Yet one of my most treasured defense mechanisms is that internal editor, the temporal pause between thoughts forming in my brain and words escaping my mouth, the thoughtful censor that instructs me to bite my tongue in the name of tact or self-preservation. I know people who accidentally voice their inner monologues, but I avoid this fate by employing an internal filter much like the FCC's 7-second profanity delay. My fear of careless self-incrimination is also why I strongly prefer written communication to verbal. I'm not suggesting that I never say stupid things or send ill-advised e-mails, but when I do, they're generally the product of a conscious mind. Not always brilliant, but certainly conscious.

Sleep talking is another story altogether. My internal censor is a deep sleeper, as is the part of my brain that can distinguish between the various characters in my waking life. I learned this a few weeks ago, when I carried on a lengthy conversation with Sam, thinking he was our cat, Oedipa.

I think I know why I'm scared. I imagine myself dreaming about some random bit player from my life, interjecting some misplaced emotions, and subsequently confessing to my husband about my uncontrollable infatuation with the little old man who waters the plants at my office. Meanwhile, Sam still has that song stuck in his head: "I hear the secrets that you keep..." and suddenly, everything makes sense to him. The late nights at work. The strange look of longing in my eyes as we pass the bonsai tree kiosk at the mall.

Just to ease my mind, I did some research and found that about 5 percent of adults reportedly talk in their sleep, that it is usually harmless and detached from conscious thought, it tends to run in families, and there are much scarier sleep disorders out there: Sleep-Related Eating Disorder, for one.

Still, the last sentence of the article freaked me out: "Sleep talking can be monitored by a partner or by using an audio recording device." I may be slowly coming to terms with my disorder, but that's one experiment I won't be signing up for anytime soon.

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