What do a good hike and a good book have in common? More than you’d think. While both can help you to drift into sleep’s embrace, they can both do the exact opposite – and that’s what I’ll talk about today.
The fact that a walk in the evening can induce pleasant drowsiness, especially in cold weather, is probably known. The fact that a good choice of a book can help you to fall asleep – more so. Would you expect either to have the opposite effect?
Note: I am not a biologist/anthropologist or anything close to it. The following conclusions are results of my self-observation.
Hiking: Survival instincts
Despite having vastly different lifestyle than any other animal on Earth, we still have the same insticnts as most mammals. Evolution won’t let them go away just because we don’t need many of them for a few centuries (which is nothing in the long run). Adrenaline rush is a good survival mechanism, allowing an animal (including a human) to push beyond the usual boundaries to increase survival. Even when humans stopped being a prey of other animals, they could still become prey to one another.
How this ties to hiking (or sport in general)? My theory is that there’s some boundary in everyone and once you cross it, your body goes to this primal mode. No matter how much you know that what you did is nothing else than a workout with a larger dose than usual, if you keep doing a physical activity, it might lead to these primal instincts to sent you into a state of awareness. If any animal is on the move for hours without stopping, there would be a serious reason behind it. In case of any other animal, the chance it would be anything else than a prolonged pursuit of a predator is likely very close to zero. Hence, I’d call it ‘escape mode’ or ‘run for your life mode’. When I get into this state, I become insensitive to exhaustion and even hunger as my body starts using whatever meager stores of energy it has.
Where is said barrier? That changes with a person’s condition. In my case, it’s somewhere around 30km, affected by other factors such as terrain difficulty and weather (it’ll be more on flat terrain while trudging waist-deep in snow might drop it to 20km).
Reading: A victory of mind?
Now, there might be two questions: what’s the similarity in reading, and how to reach said state?
As for the latter: reaching overdrive state after reading is probably much harder. The base requirment is that the book needs to be able to ‘blow your mind’. It needs to send your thoughts whirling without end, thinking about all and any aspects of the story for hours. It needs the reader to be willing to think about a book a lot, instead of just putting it aside and clearing their mind of it. For me, this state can only happen when I finish the book and try to organize my thoughts on it (not only for writing reviews). Hence, the past few books I’ve read, I left the ending for daytime even though I usually tend to read in the evening (20:00-22:00 in most cases so I then just put the e-reader aside and go to sleep).
Now, the similarity with ‘escape mode’: being the strongest doesn’t always mean victory. Sometimes, the way out is squeezing every bit of your ability to think about a possible escape route. This is the point of ‘escape game’ venues – to find a way out in a given time. So, the way to enter this mode is simply to think so furiously your body will think your life depends on it and thus won’t allow your mind to cool down for a while (‘a while’ can mean ‘a few hours’ in such case).
As I said, reaching this ‘escape mode’ – no matter which way – will end up the same: feeling way too awake for hours despite the fact that everything tells you that you should be extremely tired. And, trust me, it can be extremely annoying. If you are like me, there is a consolation: when you finally fall asleep, it’ll be deep and invigorating, even if short. That probably follows the whole point of ‘escape mode’: what if something resumed chasing you again?
I’ll wrap it up here. I hope this detour from my usual topics was interesting – and I’d like to hear about your experiences, whether they are caused by taxing your body or mind.