I Discovered This Stress-Administration Trick After I Was 3

I took a deep breath, the warm baths, the Xanax. I tried candles and crystals and sat cross-legged. But nothing can calm me down like rocking. This is what it looks like: A grown man in his mid-30s finishes work and climbs into bed. It’s early evening, the shadows have moved, he still has to cook dinner. The day was hectic – deadlines, dog to the vet, a leak under the sink – but that’s all behind him now, a soft silence that sets in. His head rolls from side to side with intent and control on the pillow ear touches like the tapping of a metronome. Tap. Tap. Tap. His hips follow suit and soon his whole body is in a smooth kinesis. He can feel his pulse getting slow and his breathing even. He is free and dreams of other worlds, worlds with many moons, with humming tides. Twenty minutes go by and something brings him back to earth – a car alarm or his partner asking from another room what he’s doing for dinner. He gets out of bed easier and less stressed. Spaghetti, he thinks.

For the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, this scene could ring a bell and conjure up a term that sounds like something you might see on a remarkably boring jazz show: “sleep-related rhythmic movements,” or SRRMs. These movements, which are characterized by repetitive and rhythmic motor behaviors, usually occur during quiet vigilance or in early phases of sleep. For me, this includes the head and body for rocking and rolling, but other movements are also possible. And if they go so far as to profoundly disrupt sleep or daily function, or even cause an injury, a malfunction diagnosis is made. SRRMs are typical of infants and children and are less common with age. They usually go away spontaneously before puberty. Rarely are they seen in adults – but somehow here I am, nearing 40 and still rocking to the beat.

My earliest memory is when I was 3 years old when I switched from the cot to the training bed. My parents tucked those guardrail bumpers under both sides of my mattress – a sleepy toddler in a stuck spaceship. I rocked on my hands and knees and then kind of awkwardly fell on my back and into a deep sleep. My parents never saw it as worrying or something that needed fixing. “You were such a sweet Martian in there,” my mother once said to me.

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