Is This Normal?: “I Can Only Sleep If I’m Covered With A Blanket or Sheet”
In this series, we dig into our strange phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is This Normal?
I cannot fall asleep without a blanket even on hot summer afternoons. To not have even a sheet covering my sleeping torso feels bizarre — outlandish, even. But besides making me comfortable, blankets also make me feel invincible: by shielding me against the demons under my bed, who would otherwise absolutely mutilate me in my sleep; to safeguarding me from murderers, who would most certainly slit my throat, or stab me all over, if it weren’t for my mighty blanket.
Is this normal? Turns out, it kind of is.
“The requirement for blankets takes on two components to it. There’s a behavioral component and a physiological component,” Dr. Alice Hoagland, the director of an insomnia clinic at the Unity Sleep Disorder Center in New York, told Atlas Obscura.
As humans, we are accustomed to sleeping under blankets from the time we are born: from being swaddled as babies, to being tucked into our beds as children. “It’s part of your routine, and without it, your brain feels that something is missing and may find it difficult to relax,” Ellen Wermter, a board-certified family nurse practitioner from Virginia, told Huffington Post. Dr. Hoagland refers to this as “pure conditioning,” and sort of a Pavlovian response. Moreover, as children, blankets served as the “magical getaway” that we believed would protect us from the darkness, or maybe, even ghosts. While we may have out-grown those fears now, sub-consciously, we continue to relate a sense of security with blankets.
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Another reason why we may find blankets indispensable to our sleep routine has to do with the production of serotonin, which is commonly understood as ‘the happy hormone.’ Serotonin also helps modulate sleep regulation to the extent that lower levels of serotonin are often linked to insomnia in people undergoing depression. But, during the rapid eye movement (REM)-cycle of sleep, our serotonin levels decrease. The gentle pressure that blankets provide also stimulates serotonin production, and helps us sleep peacefully through REM-cycles.
In addition, our body temperature continues to fall throughout the night while we’re asleep, as a means of conserving energy, and redirecting it to digestion. Experts also believe that our body loses its ability to regulate its temperature once we reach the REM-cycle. Blankets keep us warm, and by covering ourselves with blankets, in essence, we are preventing our slumber from being interrupted by cold shivers in the middle of the night.
“A blanket creates a ‘microclimate’ around the skin that is usually warmer than the surrounding environment. It traps heat that escapes from the body at night, keeping the body warm. And since most people sleep with a blanket, the physical sensation of the blanket itself gets paired with sleep. This means that simply being under a blanket can cause the brain and body to be primed for sleep. It can actually trigger a sleep response,” Dr. Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told The Healthy, explaining how the physiological component of sleeping under a blanket has become interlinked with the way we perceive blankets.
So, unlike the brave souls whose invincibility isn’t tied to a piece of covering, I will continue to rely on my blanket to protect me from goons and murderers, and since it’s 2020, maybe even from the apocalypse. Sleep tight, fellow blanket-lovers.