47 Sharks, Day 2 (or 1, depending)
The alarm blared into my ears and snapped me awake. I looked over at the clock. It was 8:01. I had to leave for class in 30 minutes. I should get up now, but I knew I didn’t have to, because I wasn’t Jewish. I hit the snooze. 9 minutes later the alarm went off again. I glared at it. It said 8:10. I knew instinctively that 8:10 was a Gematria that corresponded with a passage of scripture. I didn’t have to get up, because it didn’t apply to me. I hit the snooze. At 8:19, the alarm shrieked. I said a silent thanks that lakes are no more culturally important to me than french fries, and hit the snooze.
When the alarm went off again, two thoughts shot through my head. The first was that I had two minutes to throw on clothing, gather my stuff, and race out the door. The other was, “Because I’m not Jewish? What the hell?”
That was not the first or the last time I suffered from what I call the Waking Crazies. My whole life, while I struggle to get up my brain concocts a rational explanation for why I can continue to sleep that makes sense in the moment, and then is completely batshit the moment I start thinking clearly.
Sometimes this explanation is very simple. Once I did not have to wake up because it was Shark Week. That was it. I think there was a mechanism. The sharks were eating time, or something. Either I forgot the mechanism once I was awake or, more likely, the mechanism was because Shark Week. I do not know whether this scenario would have been more or less ridiculous if it actually had been Shark Week. It wasn’t.
Other times, the scenario is immensely complicated, with plot structure and interlocking layers of sophisticated metaphysics. They are always hazy afterward, but I recall that once there was a series of gems I had to collect, corresponding to both classical and scientific elements. The placement of the gems corresponded to instructions give to me by the numbers on my alarm clock, and were influenced by the interconnections of my relationship with people I knew and characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Over the course of the last decade, I have done research into this psychological phenomenon. I would say that during that decade, I have searched Google on no less than four whole occasions, each of them lasting at least ten minutes. This extensive research was unable to determine whether this is a documented neurosis or condition.
Slightly more productive has been my set of controlled field-experiments. I have not published my findings in a major journal, but a simplistic description of my methodology is “I asked people in the room about it whenever it crossed my mind.” Rigorous, I know.
The short if it is that I am not the only one who suffers from the Waking Crazies, but it seems pretty rare. The reactions I get when I ask people about it fall roughly into two categories. Most people laugh, and say something like, “wow, that is weird.” Then there is that satisfying 10%, whose eyes widen, as they say, “I do that too! Oh my god!”
I have a basic theory as to why some people experience the Waking Crazies and some people don’t. It is obviously not that different from a dream, or from those moments when input from the outside world mingles with your dreams. Like when you dream about pickles-powered lightbulbs and wake up to an infomercial selling pickle-powered lightbulbs. This suggestions that whatever is going on in the brains of people who experience the Waking Crazies is not all that unusual, save for some minor factor that causes this specific phenomenon. And I think I know what it is.
Tell me if this has ever happened to you. Right after you wake up, your partner brings you a cup of coffee and, laughing, asks why kiwifruit is good with spices.
“Huh?” you say.
“You said it earlier when I came in,” says your partner. “You opened your eyes, looked at me, said ‘kiwifruit is good with spices,’ then nodded definitively like an anime character.”
“Did I?” you say. “I don’t remember that!”
You might not be as fruit-obsessed as the person in the example, but it is a common experience nonetheless. You say something while apparently awake, and then you don’t remember it when you properly wake up. It happens to almost everyone.
Not me, though. And not, according to my admittedly small dataset, to other people who experience the Waking Crazies. I say the crazy kiwifruit things just like everyone else, but I always remember them later. Sometimes I forget about them until someone brings them up, but once they do the details burst into my memory like a water-balloon filled with unfiltered apple cider. Any time I look or act like I am awake, I will remember it later, no matter how weird I act in the moment. So what’s going on?
Although scientists haven’t fully figured out why we dream or what dreams are all about, they do know a lot about what goes on in your brain during the various stages of sleep. REM sleep is the period during which we dream. When you are in the REM state, your brain does not exhibit the delta and theta waves that characterize deep sleep. Instead it exhibits alpha and beta waves, just like the early lighter stages of sleep, or, indeed, waking consciousness.
Those moments when you wake up right in the middle of an intense dream occur when you wake during REM sleep. It is very common to wake up just after REM sleep. Most people frequently wake up right after the REM part of the sleep cycle. Often, we don’t remember these brief periods of wakefulness. Or at least, most people don’t. I nearly always do. I can’t say for sure that it is every time without filming myself and matching experiences, but it happens two for three times a night, which lines up with the number of times I should experience REM sleep.
When you wake up during REM, you might still be in a middle of a dream. You might act crazy, or just unusual, if provided stimuli from another person. If that stimulus is in the form of your alarm clock, you might give it a really crazy story to tell all of the digital watches and dusty old grandfathers back in Time Towers, the magical gated community where clocks go when they are not being observed. But you won’t remember it.
Unless, of course, you are a member of those great shambling hordes who call ourselves the Waking Crazies. Our numbers are growing every day.
I would love to read some serious research into this. I’ve never been able to find it. If anyone knows of any, let me know! Or if anyone wants to fund me to do this research, I’ll need a few hundred grand for a psychology degree, and then a few more for the research itself. Thanks in advance! You’re the best!