Why do I often sleep better when slightly hemmed in or confined?
October 2, 2013 5:38 PM   Subscribe

I often find that I sleep way better if my body is slightly confined? For example I might put my arms in the waistband of my pajamas or more often I will push one arm against the nightstand while lying on my side. Does this maybe have some connection to infants enjoying being swaddled? Something more primal? AmI just a weirdo?
posted by Senor Cardgage to Science & Nature (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You are a weirdo like me! There are a lot of people who like this. Some people say this may come along with, among other things, being on the autistic spectrum. Or, put another way (and excuse me from quoting Wikipedia) "Children on the autism spectrum often enjoy a sense of firm overall pressure. This can be given by wrapping them up in blankets, being squashed by pillows and firm hugs. These can form a basis for play, interaction and showing affection. Experiences that may be claustrophobic for neurotypical children may be enjoyed, such as being squashed between mattresses, and making tunnels or tents from blankets over furniture." Companies even make weighted blankets for people who have the "need heavy blankets" thing to sleep. Temple Grandin would talk about the hug machine that she built that she found calming. She has a page on her website here with citations/references.

I'm not on the spectrum, that I know of, but I'm hypersensitive to uncomfortable clothing and certain noises and have an acute startle reflex. I sleep the best if I am under about a jillion blankets and wearing head-to-toe pajamas and a hat. Even if it's warm out. Sometimes I roll over on my side and sleep with one of my hands bent at a right angle to my arm. Who knows why?

Anyhow, if that's really the only symptom you have of any other possibly odd neurological disorders then you can rest assured that yes, it's normal for some group of people. If it goes along with a bunch of other sensory processing or integration issues, you could see a doc about it.
posted by jessamyn at 5:50 PM on October 2, 2013 [15 favorites]

This is normal and I am this way too! The only possible adverse side effect and something to be on the lookout for is that sometimes I inadvertently wedge myself into a position that seems to cut off the circulation to my hand, and I wake up with severe pins and needles. I had a full medical workup, the conclusion of which was "Stop sleeping in that position." I had to train myself into a different sleep position so as not to do longterm damage and now all is well.
posted by telegraph at 5:53 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do this when I'm sick. For whatever reason not other times but definitely when sick. Never thought about it before but think you're on to something.
posted by sweetkid at 5:54 PM on October 2, 2013

I suspect it is some of the same thing that leads cats to nap in boxes two sizes too small for them. I also prefer to be under a heavy blanket (not necessarily a warm one) and sleep bracketed by king-size pillows.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:59 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mom used to tuck my comforter under my feet, calling it "making an envelope."

To this day, I cannot fall asleep unless I have that envelope- not only at my feet, but also under each arm.
posted by invisible ink at 6:04 PM on October 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am like this too. As a kid I always had to have a pillow across my chest, and maybe one over my head too, and heavy blankets. Still often sleep like that. I agree with your idea that there is something primal about being enclosed/feeling slight pressure all around.
posted by catatethebird at 6:18 PM on October 2, 2013

I like it, but don't need it to sleep. I struggle if I'm not covered in any way though.

My SO can't fall asleep unless his head is covered. He usually ends up wrapping himself up in the sheet because he's pulled it up over his head - but not because he needs to be wrapped.

Sleep is weird and you're not any weirder than the rest of us. :-)
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:23 PM on October 2, 2013

I have no idea why but I'm like this too. I've noticed that it's gotten a bit more pronounced as I've gotten older for some reason.

I've always needed a blanket to be able to fall asleep easily but now I find that I also occasionally shove my hands under my waistband. It just seems oddly natural and there is something very pleasing about the feeling of pressure (and I guess body warmth). I even do the 'hands in the waistband' thing when I'm not asleep, so I don't know it's just tied to sleep.
posted by kassila at 6:32 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another data point that I do this too, and it accounts for my preference to sleep pasted up next to any person who is sharing a bed with me. Which is annoying (for others) because though I constantly feel cold, I apparently radiate heat like the back of a refrigerator. I also like a heavy blanket, and for me bonus points if it's a warm one. I kind of make a little blanket cave/cocoon that my face pokes out of for breathing at just the right angle/exposure.

For me, it may be related to dyspraxia (in short, a difficult time figuring out/"knowing" where my body is in space, thus needing other things to mark my boundaries) or it may be related to childhood trauma. Though of course, the idea that my dyspraxia may itself be tangled up in the trauma has been floated. I've been cautioned against sleeping with my arms under my torso, because that can damage circulation and nerve signals.

As an interesting tidbit, some of the best sleep I get is on aircraft, because I have to (get to?) wedge myself into the tray table. YMMV on that one, for all sorts of reasons, up to and including wedgeability.
posted by bilabial at 6:44 PM on October 2, 2013

From all the answers here, I think it's normal. I am another anecdata; I have the best naps in MRIs...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:07 PM on October 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

jessamyn nailed it above. Temple Grandin, hug machine, etc.
posted by intermod at 7:11 PM on October 2, 2013

It's funny, but I've never thought about this and I think I'm the same way. Years ago we used to go camping a lot and I had a nice sleeping bag, mummy-style, that was a gift from my daughter. I was at first leery that it would be too confining, but got used to it quickly - but always slept with my head out in the cold. Then one night it was just too cold and I reluctantly pulled my head down deep into the sleeping bag and found that to be just yummy wonderful. I was surprised, but always slept that way in the sleeping bag after that.

Now I'm having trouble - LOTS of trouble - with fragmented, not-restful sleep. Guess I'll try a cocoon method tonight.
posted by aryma at 7:14 PM on October 2, 2013

Hmm. I always thought I was tucking the blanket under my feet to keep the monsters out. Also the bugs. But it does make everything more cozy!
posted by Glinn at 7:27 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I have a million pillows on my bed and sleep in one to tiny corner even when I have the whole king size bed to myself.

My daughter also loves sleeping in a nest. She's slept on the floor of her closet for about 6 months now.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:28 PM on October 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I love to sleep like that and will also sleep with my hands under my butt to get the same sense of pressure. I also love to sleep with the blanket pulled up over my head much to my husbands annoyance.

Oh and like Tandem Affinity I love sleeping in MRIs, it's like a little burrow.
posted by wwax at 7:33 PM on October 2, 2013

Me too. When I was a kid I used to build a wall of stuffed animals and pillows on one side of my bed (the other side was the actual wall), until they determined that it was making my asthma terrible and I had to stop. After they took the wall away it took me, no joke, something like ten years to sleep properly again. Now I work it out by having really heavy blankets and wrapping them up really tightly. Nests all the way.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:33 PM on October 2, 2013

As another data point, I've been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and I've always slept better with more weight/blankets on my bed.

Last year, I bought a 25 lb. weighted blanket. I don't sleep with it every night, especially since we've had some warm evenings lately, but it's nice on occasion. It provides a sort of diffuse pressure when I spread it across the entire bed. It's best when I bunch it up close to my body like a tight sleeping bag. It also provides this comfortable resistance when I move around or roll over.
posted by Jotnbeo at 7:37 PM on October 2, 2013

Same here. I use my own comforter, sleeping on top of the blanket my husband uses, so I can swaddle myself, and I tuck my hands under my legs. I recently upgraded to a mummy sleeping bag for camping, too. I also love MRIs, I find them so soothing and I take the best naps in them. (This thread has made me so happy, knowing that I'm not alone in that!)
posted by Ruki at 7:38 PM on October 2, 2013

And to not abuse the edit button, I'll also add that before I got married, I had about ten regular sized pillows and a body pillow to sleep.
posted by Ruki at 7:40 PM on October 2, 2013

I'm the same way, and while I've never been diagnosed, I'm surely a little bit "on the spectrum" when it comes to sensitivity things. I LOVE a nice loose air mattress that I can sink into, and then cover myself all up with my unpatented heavy blanket. (a nice heavy fleece/microfiber bouble layered blanket with two or three sheets layered underneath. I also like to take the pillow and sleep in the wide edge of it, so the sides bunch up around my ears.

(Ironically, I HATE sleeping with socks or pajamas on. Feels all clingy and confining. Or with my mouth and nose under the covers. Feels like suffocation.)

Protip: get a stretchy knit cap (winter hat style) and wear it when you are feeling the need to be confined. As a bonus, it acts as a sleep mask and (slightly) like a sound muffler. I just leave my mouth and nose out so I can feel like I have air.

Another tip: if you are like me, the last thing you want to do in the morning is get out from under the covers and re-enter the cold, drafty world. I have solved that problem by using a programmable thermostat to up the temperature in the room when it's time to get up.
posted by gjc at 7:56 PM on October 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just went and weighed my blankets. I sleep under about 25 lbs of comforters. Huh. When I travel, which is a lot, I get hotel rooms with two beds and put all the blankets on one bed and sometimes order extra blankets. When I travel to people's houses (especially in the summertime when they're likely to have a sheet and a light blanket) I just sometimes bring a sleeping bag. It's weird but less weirder than not sleeping.
posted by jessamyn at 8:08 PM on October 2, 2013

It's like the womb.
posted by kettleoffish at 8:42 PM on October 2, 2013

Also, I have eight (heavy) feather pillows on my bed, and every other feather bedding available - down comforter, feather mattress, etc. I would/still do stick a foot or leg out of the blankets for temperature control, and bury my head except for mouth and nose. However, I hate pajamas, socks, or other constricting clothing when I sleep. But the feeling of sinking into a nest is great.
posted by catatethebird at 8:52 PM on October 2, 2013

Had many MRIs in my life and always felt weird telling people because they would invariably talk about how claustrophobic they are and I would be looking at them all funny and tell them how comforting they are to me. Between the white noise of the machine and the tightness, not a better place to nap. Once you get them to put some music on and turn out the light...bliss.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:13 PM on October 2, 2013

Does this maybe have some connection to infants enjoying being swaddled?

i have no data to support this but i bet it is somehow similar to swaddling. also, there is a newish product out for dogs called the thundershirt that is like a really tight shirt that calms dogs down a ton. unfortunately, it seems they grow accustomed to it over time and then get all nervous & aroused again. if you watch videos though of the before and after wearing the shirt it is pretty wild.
posted by wildflower at 10:12 PM on October 2, 2013

Overall I do not prefer to be confined myself, but I agree that it's quite common. And, even as someone who generally dislikes feeling confined, weighted blanked are AWESOME. They're fairly expensive to buy, but you can make them yourself if you sew.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:30 AM on October 3, 2013

When I was a kid to get to sleep I used to stuff my wrists into the waistband of my PJs to sleep, or take my sheet and spin myself around in it until I was wrapped like a burrito, or put both legs in one leg of my PJs and lie with my arms tucked under the small of my back.

Smash cut to years later, I discovered I love to be tied up. Like, a lot.

I still do the burrito thing.
posted by sandra_s at 4:21 AM on October 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

My father has severe dementia, and constantly wraps himself up tightly in his blanket. Make of that what you will.
posted by dhartung at 4:22 AM on October 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not on the autism spectrum but I sleep weird too. I love the heavy blanket/weight feeling, I sleep like the dead when I have that. I don't think this is uncommon. Also, most of my family prefer to keep the bedroom at freezing temperatures and just load up on blankets. There is something about being snuggled in to a warm bed of cosy blankets and having the air outside the bed be freezing cold that just knocks me out. And I mean FREEZING. I am in Canada, it gets effing cold here in the winter, but I always used to sleep with the window open all year round. Even my 90 year old grandmother did this. I got frostbite on my ear one time while I was sleeping, no joke.

Sadly, my freezing cold heavy blanket sleeping days are over. My husband absolutely refuses to have the window open in the wintertime, he thinks it is insane, and he doesn't like to sleep with a lot of blankets. Boo-urns. Honest to god, how I slept is the only thing I really miss about being single. I really loved those heavy blankets and freezing cold temperatures. :(
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:40 AM on October 3, 2013

Nthing. And while it may be characteristic of being on the autism/Aspergers/PDD spectrum, it also definitely occurs in people who are so far from the spectrum that they cannot see the spectrum from where they are standing. I think it makes more sense to think of it as a primal comfort thing, equally applicable to various neurotypes. I am a body pillow/heavy duvet person, not necessarily covering me but often scrunched up half around me.

Another data point, my grandfather could sleep sitting up, almost anywhere, as long as he had something (usually a sweater) draped over his front/chest. Instant naptime, like hooding a bird.
posted by sarahkeebs at 8:38 PM on October 7, 2013

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