Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Night Lights

Here’s a weird experience that happens to me every single day.

I used to be not so good at going to sleep. I’ve slowly made many small changes that have added up to going sleep fairly easily at around the same time every night: melatonin, bedtime rituals, red lighting on my devices and in my home, not drinking anything right before bed, no caffeine, and not using a lighted screen in bed.

The most recent addition, which has been working surprisingly well, is changing the order in which I turn off the lights in my bedroom.

I have two red lights in my room: an overhead light controlled by a switch near the door, and a bedside light controlled by a button near my bed.

My final bedtime ritual used to be this:

  1. Turn on the bedside lamp,
  2. turn off the overhead light,
  3. grab a book,
  4. lie down in bed,
  5. and read till I feel like sleeping.

It worked pretty well, but would sometimes fail when the book was engrossing or I was feeling rebellious about having to go to sleep.

Then, I changed the order to this:

  1. Grab a book,
  2. turn off the overhead light,
  3. lie down in bed,
  4. turn on the bedside lamp,
  5. and read till I feel like sleeping.

The re-ordering results in about five seconds where my room is completely dark. It stays that way until I push the button to turn on the bedside lamp, which I do while lying down in bed.

The thing is, I never actually turn on the bedside lamp.

I think I’ve done it, like, once, just to prove to myself that I could.

But it always happens that as soon as I’m lying down in bed with all the lights off, I no longer want to turn on the bedside lamp and read. It’s all dark and warm and comfortable. I just want to close my eyes and drift off. So I always sleep with my book beside me, but I never actually read it in bed.

What makes this a weird experience is the part right before I flip the switch by the door to turn off the overhead lamp.

Every single time, before I flip the switch, I want to read in bed. And every single time, after I flip the switch, I no longer want to read in bed.

It took a couple weeks for the strangeness to sink in, but eventually it became downright disturbing.

After maybe a month of this, it came to pass that while reaching for the light switch, I would consistently find myself thinking as vividly as possible about pleasant memories of reading in bed at night, my favorite things about the book I’m reading, and about how I really do have plenty of time before I actually need to be asleep.

Last night, I noticed that I was imagining all of those things as usual, but I was simultaneously feeling sort of hopeless. I think it’s probably for the best, overall, that I not read in bed at night, and as I reached for the switch, I was aware of that as well. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.

Yet, as I played through those pleasant memories, I did so with desperation, as though clutching at my last moments of desire before they were inevitably snatched away by the future.

Every night when I go to bed, I literally flip a switch to modify my preferences.

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