Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Driving Drowsy

This seems to be the week for embarrassing personal revelations. So time I admitted I've driven under the influence - of sleep.

I love to drive. There are very few parts of the country I have not driven through. Sections of the east coast north of New Hampshire and south of New Jersey. The Deep South (uh, is there any good reason to go there)? I've driven cross-country to both coasts seven or eight times, and every single time there has been some stretch of road I had no business being on because I was driving while undergoing reptilian torpor.

Probably the worst was coming back from Seattle. I stopped into a restaurant in Osseo, Wisconsin called the Norske Nook. After a lunch of breaded pork chops, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, and a slice of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream, I found myself being awakened by the rumble strip on I-94 south around Tomah. I was probably asleep for a good thirty seconds. For the longest time after that, I had a hard time shaking the idea that I was in the Bardo - that transitional state the Tibetans suggest we go through between lives. Nah. I don't believe in that anymore. Of course I wasn't, but once you go through one of those coulda-shoulda-been-killed-or-at-least-mutilated episodes, there is a tinge of unreality about life that sticks with you for a bit.

At any rate, since I am one of those people (possibly due to being a runner?) who tries to pay close attention to one's internal bodily states (possibly why I don't have the knack as a meditator?), I've noticed things going on inside my brain when I start to doze off. I'm very much aware of my conscious states in those situations like drowsy driving - because, you know, you are fighting to stay awake.

One thing I've noticed is it seems like there are parts of my brain that are just completely shut down in this drowsy state, and that other parts are talking to each other. It's just barely perceptible, like hearing a conversation in a distant part of the house. I've chalked it up to the idea that my conscious part of me, my awake personality, is just the tip of the iceberg. I know for certain that there are vast unconscious processes - all that maintenance and housekeeping - going on inside me that never quite bubble up to the surface.

Well, it appears I'm correct. Researchers who have done brain scans of people falling asleep are astounded to see specific regions "talking" to each other. The theory is that some regions are actively inhibiting other regions. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that they all interdependently, in a weird kind of relativistic spacetime brain continuum way, make each other "go to sleep" in an acausal nonlinear loop.

I'm sleepy.

1 comment:

  1. Done that. More than once coming back from a river trip. First or second shift after three days on the river is tough. Fortunately, I lived to tell the tale. Guardian angels or superconscious mind telling you to snap out of it, I couldn't say.

    Also pulled over to sleep once on the side of the highway and got awakened by a cop tapping on my window.

    I don't do that kind of stuff anymore.