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A most difficult task

Country Roads

October 22, 2012
Arvid Huisman ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Quickly! Name the most difficult physical task you can imagine. Lifting an extremely heavy object? Outrunning an angry bear? Jumping over a wide chasm?

How about this one: staying awake when your mind and body want to sleep?

You know the feeling. It's been a long day and you've enjoyed a good supper. Now you're at a meeting and the air conditioner isn't doing its job. As the boring speaker drones on and on, your eye lids begin to droop and your eyeballs roll back as if to examine their sockets. Your mind begins to shut down. Your head begins to nod.

Suddenly, your head nods a bit too far and jerks back to a normal position while your eyes open widely and you attempt to regain your focus. The dull lecturer continues on and you begin the process of attempting to stay awake all over again.

Staying awake can, at times, seem impossible.

My problem with fighting slumber began innocently enough in high school when the first study hall after lunch was just too much to endure. After a while I gave up, put my head down on the desk and caught a few winks until the bell awoke me with a start.

By the time I got to college I was working nearly 40 hours a week and attempting to maintain some semblance of a social life while carrying a full class load. The issue of staying awake became a larger problem.

The worst situation I can remember in that setting was a music appreciation class scheduled immediately after lunch. It was a great class with an excellent instructor. However, when the instructor put the needle down on a classical recording the heavy lunch began its hypnotic effect. I tried caffeinated beverages and "stay awake" pills to no avail.

My first full time job required a 4 a.m. wake up, something that played havoc with a young bachelor's night life (such as it was.)

Fighting sleep became a major problem when my buddy Rich and I traveled to Des Moines to visit a couple of nursing students. Leaving the capitol city sometime after midnight Rich drove my car back to his ISU campus apartment in Ames while I slept. Then I drove the final 30 miles to my apartment.

Little Wall Lake lies along U.S. Highway 69 between Ames and Jewell. At one point the road is only a few yards from the shore. As a non-swimmer my greatest fear during those early morning trips was that I'd fall asleep and drive into the lake.

I rolled down the window (even in the winter) and turned the radio volume to the max. Then I loudly sang along with the music or screamed out the window. Anything to stay awake and avoid driving into Little Wall Lake.

My guardian angel performed wonderfully and I always made it home safely despite drifting onto the shoulder a few times.

One evening my drowsiness nearly cost me my dignity. While spending an evening with a group of friends, I feel asleep on the sofa and awoke some time later to find my hand in a bowl of warm water. My pals were testing the old theory that placing a sleeping subject's hand in warm water causes him to wet his pants. Fortunately, I awoke before the theory could be proven.

In the years that have followed my work hours have become more traditional and I get more sleep. Still, the battle to stay awake occasionally rages on.

An acquaintance shared a bizarre method of staying awake while driving. He fills a large cup with ice cubes and then sucks on ice while driving. I've tried it and it works. The mind remains sluggish but it is easier to keep the peepers open.

With age I increasingly believe our Latin friends have the answer to this problem in their daily siestas. I recall working for some old farmers who stretched out under a shade tree for a few winks after a big noon meal. It allowed the meal to settle and work out the "drowsies" before returning to work.

Staying awake when every fiber of your body wants to sleep is one of life's most difficult physical tasks.

I've been in training for years.



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