Drifting Off while reading To Kill A Mockingbird…

Okay, this post admittedly has very little to do with reading or To Kill a Mockingbird, so skip it if you like…

I knew something would have to give this week. For a variety of reasons, I had several nights in a row with minimal sleep and then Friday night, when I should’ve been able to catch up, I instead foolishly agreed to go out after work for a few beers. This led to yet another night of inadequate sleep so I pinned all my hopes on last night (Saturday). I also had about sixty pages yet to read of To Kill a Mockingbird, so about 9:45pm I lay down in bed determining to finish the book or at least read myself to sleep.

Naturally, I only got through about five pages before finding myself starting to drift off. I happily gave in to this and lay the book on my bed stand, looking forward to sleeping the sleep of the dead. As so often happens when I’m sleep deprived, I must’ve entered into REM sleep very quickly, and I had some vivid dreams. Things started to turn south when I dreamt that someone had entered my residence while I was in the bedroom sleeping. In my dream, I went out to the living room, and clearly someone had come in or out through the sliding patio doors, leaving them unlocked and my vertical blinds in disarray. Still in my dream I sat on the couch and a female friend who was suddenly present was going to sit up with me and “keep watch” (I guess for additional intruders). I remember at one point jolting alert and saying to her, “There it is again! Did you hear that?” Both of us were continually drifting off to sleep though (still within the dream) and I don’t remember what we did about whatever it was I’d heard.

The last thing from the dream that I consciously remember as part of the “known dream” was realizing that I and my friend had kind of snuggled up together in sleep, and not really caring too much about it, as it was a comfortable feeling. 🙂 Then I “woke up” from this dream within a dream and I was back in bed – where I really was sleeping, as opposed to the couch in my dream – and I could still feel entangled with another “person.” I remember thinking, “this is weird, ’cause THAT was in a dream.” I realized quickly, however, that this entangling was not comfortable. In fact, it was decidedly uncomfortable and on the verge of suffocating. I felt like I was in someone’s powerful bear hug. I remember trying to extricate myself but barely being able to move my arms. This other presence was clutching me tightly, and I could feel “her” body pressing into mine, but something was very wrong. I could feel hair, but it was coarse like twine, and “in the wrong places.” Panic was setting in as I had begun to realize that there was some kind of “creature” embracing me.

Mercifully, my rational mind began to regain control at this point (I even had the thought, “this sounds just like a classic case of sleep paralysis.”), and I started to wake up “for real.” I still couldn’t quite move, though, but somehow this other presence was dissipating and I could palpably sense less and less weight until finally I was able to open my eyes and I was laying on my right side with my arms across my chest more or less hugging myself. I looked at the clock and it was only 10:30pm. I was too scared to go back to sleep for quite awhile. I turned the radio on, and even tried reading some more to try to regain my footing in the real world. It was a terrifying experience.

(below: John Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare”)

In looking up sleep paralysis on line this morning, I discovered a lot of superstitious and supernatural “explanations” of the phenomenon.  One web site said it usually occurs because the sufferer has been exposing himself to, or even just researching into, the occult (I guess this opens a door so these ‘demons’ can come and bother you when you’re asleep?).  Of course, I don’t believe that crap – nor have I been dabbling in the occult…  I prefer a physiological explanation.  I know others will disagree.

Anyway… I WAS able to finish To Kill A Mockingbird this morning, however. Just in time to see a performance of the stage version this afternoon at the Epilogue theater in downtown Indianapolis. 🙂

I’m sure many other readers fall asleep while reading. Do you ever find your subconscious mind incorporating plot elements or characters from what you’re reading into your dreams? (I rarely do) Has anyone else out there experienced “sleep paralysis?” I normally find dreams fascinating, but I have no interest in repeating last night’s experience…


  1. Jillian said,

    March 6, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    I’ve never fallen asleep while reading. (I don’t know why. I’m one of the strangely alert types that pretty much never falls asleep unintentionally.)

    But last night I dreamt I was reading detailed non-fiction, and I was annoyed when I had to wake up, because I needed to get more reading in. I actually felt I was learning something, but when I woke up, all I could recall was lists of words and subscripts, with no meaning.


    • Jay said,

      March 7, 2011 at 7:04 am

      You and I are just the opposite here – I cannot sleep “on demand” (I really envy my friends who say, “I’m going to go take a nap,” and can actually do it.) but sometimes sleep when I don’t want to.

      I have those “detailed, studying dreams” sometimes too, but usually when I’m running a fever or on the night before an important event.

      Maybe I will have to read a book about dreams this year…


  2. Dale Barthauer said,

    March 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Yes, I have sleep paralysis from time to time. It usually occurs with a dream that I am submersed in water and drowning. It is terrifying, but I always wake up and the terror is gone in about 30 seconds. My guess is that it’s something physiological and/or psychological (i.e., stress). I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about books that I’ve read.


    • Jay said,

      March 7, 2011 at 7:07 am

      Yes, I think stress is a factor too. What I read yesterday said that the body has a mechanism to “paralyze” itself during REM periods (so the dreamer doesn’t act out the events of his dream) and that sometimes the brain wakes up before that mechanism has worn off, thus experiencing “sleep paralysis.” it’s definitely a fascinating phenomenon.


  3. Alex said,

    March 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Yikes, that does sound scary! Fortunately it never happened to me, but I do have scarier, more frantic dreams when I’m more sleep deprived.

    Do you think it had something to do with the book?


  4. Jay said,

    March 7, 2011 at 7:11 am

    Hi Alex,
    I don’t think it had anything to do with the book, although now that you mention it, there is kind of a resigned helplessness feeling to the book – in realizing Tom Robinson is going to get convicted and die even though he is innocent. My subconscious may have been gnawing on that a little.

    I always seem to have more vivid dreams after a stretch of sleep deprivation too. They’re not always nightmarish, but they are more and more bizarre.

    You’ll be happy to hear I finally “caught up” last night and slept over ten hours(!) I feel so good this morning! 🙂


  5. Stacy Rich said,

    July 2, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    I agree with you that it is more of a psychological explanation. Ive always been interested in sleep paralysis, and never experienced it. I’m not looking for one either! Haha

    Liked by 1 person

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