It’s pulling at you. Sapping at your energy, weighing down on your eyelids. You’re warm and comfortable, lacking thirst or hunger or anything else that could compel you to move. You’re starting to wonder if there could be anything that could possibly be anything better right now than letting your eyes finally close, lay down and fall into the oblivion of sleep. Unless you’re in a Japanese lesson at university at 9 in the morning, in which case, you’ll do anything to stay awake. Anything. (I’m not Japanese. I can’t in good conscious, sleep while someone is trying to teach me something. Besides, it’s embarrassing).
Admittedly this problem is of my own making. If you string together a list of nights spent in the library amongst your friends until 3am for long enough, it’ll eventually catch up to you. That’s an issue when you’ve got 3 hour lectures to face first thing in the morning at the wonderful start of 8.45. (Who in the world thought that was a good idea? 9 o’clock start, sure. Even 8 I could have dealt with, given some time and extensive brainwashing. But 8.45? The OCD in my blood was having a fit all year thanks to that). After I spent one morning fighting back against sleep, and being unable to droop once during the lesson, I realised steps must be taken. Not steps to get an early night of course (if that’s what you think, you obviously haven’t read anything else in this blog. In which case, shame on you). But a set of genius measures to ensure my consciousness without the use of hard-core drugs like coffee (because it’s disgusting. Coffee drinkers are disgusting. You’re disgusting). The key was not to rely on any single one, but a combination.
Step one. Breakfast. Shocking to some, I very rarely eat breakfast. I have nothing against breakfast, and quite enjoy it when the opportunity arises (when the moon and the stars are aligned during a leap year to be exact). But generally I tend to be a little too unconscious in the mornings to find the time for it. I’m too busy in a mad rush to get to school/work to waste my time on food (priorities when in a morning go: clothes, bag, brush teeth, shower, shave, use the bathroom and finally at the very end all on its lonesome, breakfast. I’m proud to say I manage the first three even during my most daring morning dashes. Showering and shaving can be done the night before, and there are bathrooms everywhere). So on my walk into lectures, I would stop off at convenience stores and pick up something. A croissant, and a small drink maybe. I’d eat it slowly, nibbling at it secretly during lectures, so that the actual act of biting and chewing would force me away from falling asleep (a threat to myself of choking in my sleep). But alas, the croissant wasn’t enough, and they’re too soft to wake me up. Next up came hot crispy chicken. Sure, it made me feel incredibly ill first thing in the morning, but who do you know can fall asleep at the same time as going through nausea. But there just wasn’t enough of it. So I ended buying huge plates of pasta, intended to be heated up for a poor man’s dinner. You try falling asleep while eating a tonne of pasta. It can’t be done!
Step two. Pain. It’s a classic one, masochism. We’ve all been there. I in particular am famous for accidentally walking into tables, chairs, other people, into oncoming footballs, door-frames (lots of door-frames. My parents fondly referred to me as the human pinball when I was a child), piles of books (personal issue), lampposts and once into a wild deer in Kyoto (he was just as surprised as I was. I could tell because both of us had bulging eyes for a moment). I am very familiar with being the cause of my own pain. But when its deliberate, to keep from falling asleep, it’s very effective. The shock alone is a great tool to snap you out of the descent into fatigue. I started small of course, digging my finger nails into my hand until it look like a less than impressive wolf had mauled me for fun. I tried kicking the back of my legs (don’t get too enthusiastic with that one though. I managed to knock myself out of my chair one time). I went as far as pulling out hairs from inside my nose (and dear God that hurt. Don’t ever do that, trust me. You have no idea. When I close my eyes, sometimes I can still feel it).
Step three. Maths. Mental arithmetic requires you to concentrate usually, and if I can’t focus on what I’m hearing, a small maths problem can help me refocus my mind. If Poncho eats three apples over four days, how many apples does a sleepy Poncho eat over 5 days? (The answer is three and a half by the way). I would usually then shake my head at how absurd the situation was, remember that maths won’t help me for oncoming Japanese exam, and suddenly find the motivation to turn back to the Japanese lecture at hand. Take that fatigue. I’m very good at tricking my own body.
In spite of all my glorious techniques, there were times when even they could not save my head from falling into my hands. I’d jump up with a start and pretend that for a brief moment I hadn’t fallen asleep. In front of me Kara’s head would be drooping too, and watching her would make me sleepier. Some of the Korean students wouldn’t care and set up a pillow of books to rest on. The lecturer (lovely as she was) spoke on in her monotone voice, like a very boring lullaby, and it seemed as though everything was trying to soothe me into sleep. But Tee saved me. He saved us. With a sacrifice akin to biblical proportions. You see, he in his ultimate wisdom and kindness, took on our pains to save us. He not only fell asleep; that would not be enough. He snored. The snore brought me and Kara from the brink, making us spin round in horror to find its source. So devastating was the sound, I became immediately alert and needed none of of my counter measures for the rest of the lecture. Even some of the Korean students woke up with a start. So we give thanks unto him. For the lecturer, the student and the holy Tee.