It’s so strange, so odd, this recent predicament of mine. I can’t figure out where to put my arms when I sleep. How is that possible? I’ve been sleeping successfully all my life. OK, maybe I wasn’t always “successful”; I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights or nights where I’ve found myself tossing and turning. But even then, I don’t remember my arms being in the way, at least not like they are now.
Why can’t I figure this out? It should be so simple. It’s one of the most natural and instinctive things we do, sleeping. I’ve been doing it my whole life, yet for some reason it’s causing me to struggle. It should be something we do with out much thought, but lately, I just can’t figure out what to do with my arms.
How silly. How strange a dilemma. Where did I put my arms during all my previous nights of slumbering? Why is it weird and awkward now? I can’t get comfortable, and part of that is trying to figure out what to do with these two seemingly misplaced floppy structures that are attached to my torso. What do I do with them? They feel like they’re in the way, always in the way.
Tentacles flailing on the sand.
Tethers undone in a storm.
Cables bouncing around with jolts of electricity.
And cold. My hands and feet are always cold. Always. Even in August. It’s as if sleep uses the my cold digits as a distraction, keeping me awake, my brain buzzing with the same thought, the same mantra running through my head, “my feet are cold”; a buzzing that won’t let me sleep. But I’ve figured it out, some of it, anyway, I’ve figured out how to block this distraction. Socks. Socks keep my feet warm. Parkas for my little piggies. The mantra of cold feet no longer buzzing in my thoughts, no longer hindering sleep.
But I can’t keep my hands warm. I’ve tried mitts. I’ve tried wearing socks on my hands – which are really just thumbless mittens when you think about it. Fortunately, cold hands don’t act as the same distraction as cold toes, just a minor annoyance, but still, an annoyance. The best solution is to keep them still, and under the covers, once they get warm.
But that’s the hard part. Hands are attached to arms, and I just can’t figure out what to do with my arms. They always seem to be in the wrong place, or unattached and separate. On their own. Disjointed. Wrong. Under when they should be over. Folded when they should be straight. Straight when they should be bent.
I try Corpse Pose, the final pose in a relaxing yoga session. Breathe. In. Out. Don’t think about anything but breathing. I shake out my arms and legs. Breathe. In. Out. I flex a few muscles to release the tension. This just might work. Breathe. In. Out. This just might work. I can feel sleep sneaking in, peeking at me, trying to take over. So close. This just might work. Breathe. In. Out. Don’t get excited about it. Breathe. In. Out.
Jolted awake; the dog barks, a car alarm sounds, I remember what I forgot earlier… and just like that, sleep runs away. Sleep hides, far from me and the noises in my brain and my surroundings. Sleep wants nothing to do with the cacophony of sounds, to do lists, or forgotten errands. Sleep wants nothing to do with me and my surroundings, it’s just to noisy in here for sleep.
Just as quickly as I wake, I notice that my arms are out of place. What do I do with my arms? Why can’t I figure out what to do with my arms? Why are they just there, just hanging by my side? My legs are fidgeting, they want to run, fast, to chase down sleep. My back is screaming, letting me know it’s not happy. It’s never happy when sleep runs from us, or even when sleep is stalking us. But it’s screaming is loudest just before sleep takes over.
Onto my side. Curl up with a pillow between my knees. Now where do I put my arms? One feels crushed, the other out of place, limp. It seems so silly that I can’t figure this out. I’ve been a side sleeper for as long as I can remember, but where did I put my arms all those other times? Why do they feel so disjointed tonight? Why do they feel like two separate things, one deep and buried, one lighter than air?
My shoulders feel conspicuous, like they’re to big for my body, to long for my frame, a telescoping structure arcing as it’s extended beyond it’s range. My noggin feels like it’s bobbing, just hovering above the pillow like an almost deflated helium balloon – not quite to the floor yet, just sort of hovering there, gently bobbing to the floor, then hovering again. My neck scolds me. Why is the pillow so far away tonight? And my arms, my arms are still pinned and flailing at the same time. What do I do with my arms?
I try placing my hands under the pillow. Maybe that will help. It’ll prop the pillow, bring it closer to my skull. No more bobbing. My neck thanks me. This just might work. But the angle of my arms bothers me, I can’t pinpoint the reason. Why can’t I figure out what to do with my arms? They feel like triangles, triangles with wrong angles, like my math is all wrong and the triangles want to be something not triangular. Have my elbows always been this sharp?
My shoulders want to collapse. They don’t like being vertical. They weren’t meant to be a mast, supporting these sails, these flailing arms and my bobbing skull. They’re crying out to be horizontal, to be supported instead of supporting. I roll onto my belly and my shoulders heave a giant sigh of relief, happy to be flat again.
I fold my arms and rest my head on them. Breathing into the cavern I’ve created. I know I shouldn’t be on my belly, but this just might work. Sleep starts to peek out of it’s hiding place. I can feel it drifting silently towards me, checking, making sure it’s safe. This just might work. My eyes are heavy. The pain in my hips is expanding into the darkness, like solar flares reaching into the universe. Sleep is circling, thinking about pouncing.
Startled. Suddenly awake – I’ve tripped in my dream. My hand is asleep. Of course it would fall asleep before I do. Shaking and flexing my hand, I watch as sleep darts back into hiding. Even sleep is moving slower now. But it’s still alluding me, still hiding. The pins and needles electrify my hand and arm, alerting my shoulders, warning them of the morning’s promised stiffness.
Back to my side, I roll over again, try the other side this time. This isn’t to bad. My ribs are vibrating red and orange. The colors will dull eventually. My shoulders aren’t complaining yet. I just need to figure out what to do with my arms.
Why are they still in the way? I don’t notice them being cumbersome when I’m not trying to sleep. What is it about sleep that disconnects them somehow? Why do they want to misbehave when sleep is near? What is it about sleep that makes them so gangly? So misplaced? Why can’t I find a place for them?
My legs always want to run, kick, or wiggle when sleep is near – that’s a whole other problem, and an actual medical complaint, I’m told. But what about arms? My arms feel aimless, lost, like teens loitering while trying to decide what to do next. They don’t want to be still, but they don’t know what they want to do either. They’re just stuck where they are – hanging from my shoulders, lifeless, aimless, out of place.
Why is this so hard? What did I do with my arms last night? The night before? All the nights before that? Shouldn’t I know? Shouldn’t I be able to simply lay down and fall asleep like so many people I know are able to do? Why is this so difficult? Where do I put my arms? Where does anybody put there arms when their sleeping?
Awake in the morning, groggy from the night’s restlessness, I stumble around, finding myself, reorienting my limbs to the space they occupy. Like the dreams I will forget by breakfast, I’ve already forgotten what I did with my arms when sleep finally overtook me. Sleep being a funny, forgetful thing, that knowledge is gone, packed away for me to search for another night. Hopefully, it’s easier to find next time.