Guest Post by
In my family, I have the reputation for being able to fall asleep almost anywhere. As a direct result of working a physically demanding job (often literally from sunrise to sunset), I have the ability to doze off in nearly any circumstance.
There was the time I fell asleep at a nephew's birthday party and members of my immediate and extended family took turns taking selfies with my semi-recumbent form on the couch. On more than one occasion, I have dozed off in a chair during a holiday family gathering and awoken to find that my older brother has placed around me and balanced atop my person newspapers, magazines, and other various items from around the room. Another time I put my head down on the dinner table at a Japanese noodle restaurant in downtown Shanghai and slept through the whole meal. (Jet lag may have played a part in that one.) Living in an apartment for seven years, I learned to (mostly) sleep through loud music, drunken revels, and lovers' quarrels taking place in full voice mere feet from my bedroom window. Not to mention all the catnaps I've snatched in tack rooms, waiting rooms, on airport floors, and in airplanes, trains, and subways.
Because of my ability to sleep anywhere and through almost anything, I'm intrigued by the fact that sometimes I pop awake from a dead sleep because of a very small noise. It's as if I have this background software running in my brain that jolts me into consciousness whenever it detects some sound that is out of the ordinary.
For example, I used to dog-sit a Jack Russell terrier named Nike. Since she was old, she had to go out at least once every night. But to wake me up, she didn't bark or whine or cry. She had this particular way of wheezing that wasn't quite a whine, and she would sit on the floor and stare at me and breathe funny until it woke me up. And somehow, it worked.
The sound of my snowbird roommates arriving home for the winter and closing car doors in the driveway has been enough for a brief interruption of my sleep. The splat of a frog jumping onto a window can drag me into a moment of wakefulness. I once awoke in an immediate panic at the sound of a dog about to throw up. I've popped awake to a state of high alert when I heard the distant sound of tinkling glass at 3:00am. (That's an exciting story for another day.) And just last night I woke up in some confusion at the sound of a cat about to hack up a hairball. (I don't own a cat. Thus the confusion.)
I'm not a neurologist, so I don't know the mechanism that makes the brain work this way. But I do think it's pretty cool. I see it as another example of how we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And I wonder if it's related to the way my brain wakes me up fifteen minutes before my alarm goes off on horse show mornings.
But I have to do my wondering while I'm doing the dishes or cleaning stalls. Because if I sit down to think about it, I'm bound to fall asleep.