I awoke today with an intention to write something profound. Then I got out of bed.
There are moments between sleep and consciousness when our minds are busy creating. For me, whether when I’m falling asleep or awakening, that’s when stories play out and I see artwork happen in my mind. Psychologists call this stage “hypnagogia,” a borderland between sleep and wakefulness characterized by surreal visions and strange sensory occurrences.
I learned to use hypnagogia to my advantage when I was a teenager, which sometimes resulted in “trippy” art while I was in high school. I also used it to form story ideas. The best times to do this were those waking moments, which left imprints in my mind that I recorded as best as I could into drawing pads and notebooks I kept by my bed.
A routine sleep schedule helped me to have hypnagogia occurrences during the same time every morning. I was most creative with my art and writing during my school years and later when I worked a routine 9-to-5 day job. But when my sleep schedule was everything but routine, my creativity was at its lowest. This occurred when I worked as a steward, baker, cook, mess hall manager, truck driver, bartender, and housing manager in the Navy, and again when I became employed in retail.
My current retail employer insists but doesn’t demand that I make myself available to work at any time and day … except Christmas (subject to change, I’m sure, by a growing mental illness among CEOs called Wealth Accumulation Disorder). Luckily, my department is a “day department,” so I have been able to stay away from what the company used to call third shift. I’m a “day person,” which means I don’t have to work past midnight, but I should be available to begin working at 6am. Luckily (and I’ll take all the luck I can get), my department doesn’t open until 9am, which means my days begin at eight thirty. Quitting time is 10pm, so each day is fractured into two shifts: 8:30am–5:30pm, and 5:30pm–10pm.
Hypnagogia rarely occurs when I’m scheduled a 5:30pm–10pm shift followed by an 8:30am–5:30pm shift. I’m certain the lack of hypnagogia happens because I’m used to going to bed at 10pm and waking at 6am. When I go to bed later than 10pm, I struggle to fall asleep and end up reading until midnight or later. My mind is blank at 6am on these nights, and so I spend the hour reserved for recording ideas hitting the snooze button before I have to take my morning dose of Synthroid before I can eat a proper breakfast.
Without hypnagogia occurrences, especially right before I awake, I find myself less alert on the job as well. Perhaps it’s because experiencing hypnagogia is a condition I’ve grown accustomed to. When I miss out, I’m like a junkie without his fix. I need my moment to be creative. And when I’m feeling creative, I do more than make art or write stories, I function better at socializing. My brain’s gears are working best and in full throttle. I’m that smiling guy who greets you with a friendly hello because I got a night of good sleep bookended with hypnagogia.
Maybe someday big pharma will sell it over the counter. For now, I’ll take it when I can get it, and call myself lucky on the days—I mean nights—it happens.