Head Dancing

There is a meeting room where I work in which its Miami Vice color scheme, fuzzy lighting, and muffled acoustics combine to create an overpowering snooze-inducing effect. When I sit down in this room, I soon find myself squinting and taking shallow, hamster-like breaths as a wave of sleepiness froths over me. It doesn’t matter how exciting the subject matter is, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the seating, I just can’t seem to stay fully alert in that room.

Discussing this with a coworker led to the mention of the infectious international phenomenon known as head dancing. This is when you become drowsy and your head decides to– whappeesh– snap back and forth in an effort to wake you up. It can happen in the most embarrassing places– church, work, school, while in a car, even during tightrope walking– but I must wonder why anyone is embarrassed by it when everyone, naturally, does it.

Perhaps the embarrassment comes from the reality that some people have more violent head dancing episodes than others. Years ago in my astronomy class, there was a poor guy who, without fail, seemed to start to head dance as soon as the instructor (who drove a Saturn) started to talk. It wasn’t just his head that moved though; his whole body would– woosh– sway one way and then– woosh– jerk back the other. It was like watching a slightly awkward form of interpretive dance as performed by marionette pirates after they rediscover their secret rum cache.

He may have done the classic whappeesh self-whiplash move at times, which we all do– find me someone who hasn’t. What was so interesting about it was how he slumped one way and then another without falling out of his chair. It was as if his posterior end were fastened to the seat with Gorilla glue and everything else was free to flail. That guy had talent, and it was arguably more interesting than watching the two space cadets in the next class who dropped acid before the planetarium turned on.

Leaving slug trails on your sleeve or waking up with a line of drool hanging out of your mouth is also very human but can be humiliating as well. Some people’s mouths hang wide open when they sleep, or their saliva tends to escape and form quite intricate trails of sparkling ooze on nearby fabrics. Even worse than waking up after an unconscious “trying to make a spider web with your own spit” display is figuring out how to break off the line of drool without grossing onlookers out further. Kleenex? Shirt sleeve? Wrap it around a pencil? Fling it to the carpet?

To me the most terrible part of head dancing is when you fall asleep in a crowd and startle yourself awake with some sort of “uhh” sound. I mean, how do you explain that? Do you tell people that you were dreaming you were in a martial arts showdown and had just landed an epic strike on your opponent’s solar plexus? Reality is that your body decided you had dozed off long enough and it forced just enough air up your trachea to wake you up with a noise akin to tripping over a curb in untied clown shoes and falling on your stomach.

You probably have no idea what you were dreaming about or why you couldn’t say something cool like, “the Copenhagen Interpretation may claim that about wave function, but Amit Goswami says otherwise, bro.” But no, regardless of how brilliant your mental meanderings were, you emit a guttural, primitive “uhh” as your eyes pop open and you try to remember if you’re swatting mosquitoes in the Amazon jungle or watching a coworker eat cake as they extol the virtues of their big screen pie chart.

Some people are fortunate not to wake themselves up with the “uhh” sound, but instead rouse themselves up with a pronounced sleep snort. No one notices they’ve fallen asleep in a meeting until– “schnarfglt”– people are looking around wondering where the wild boar with excessive phlegm is. It is difficult to be around people in group situations when this happens, because someone inevitably starts snickering, which spreads like wildfire. At that point either the speaker is reveling in how well-received their jokes and presentation are, or the powers that be start staring ominously as if you should leave the room. But you can’t; tears are running down your face and you are doubled over in a fixed position trying to contain your giggles.

The last head dancing sleep startle movement I’ll mention for now is the exhausting, potentially injurious full body jerk. Sometimes it’s not just your head that starts bobbing around. You may be having a delightful dream in which you’re strolling along to the Bubblegum song from Nacho Libre with butterflies and birds fluttering around you. Rainbows and lollipops abound, and you’re proudly wearing a puffy shirt (a la Seinfeld) for no apparent reason, smiling at the rotund cotton candy vendors who are peddling their wares on Gumdrop Lane.

Then “DOINK!”– your whole body decides to lash out violently. I know people who’ve broken toes and damaged furniture doing this. It’s like every possible muscle stiffens at once in a valiant attempt at an impossible disco move. What really stinks is when you do the full body jerk and hit your head. If you sat in the back row of an auditorium so that people would be less likely to notice you when you nod off, you made the wrong choice, buster, because the whole place heard your skull smacking against the back wall.

There are certainly many more variations on and associated symptoms of head dancing. We’ve probably all done a face plant on our keyboard before, or conked our head on a friend’s car window when someone decides they have the munchies and need chicken nuggets at three in the morning. There’s also the waking up at the dining room table and finding the toaster waffle you so desperately wanted stuck to your bathrobe thing, but that’s a subject for another time.

If I were an enterprising type, I’d invent a head stabilizer that people could wear to business meetings and concerts they don’t really want to go to so that they can maintain a little dignity when the sleep gremlins strike. But if and when I do, I should probably include a mouth guard and a plastic tray, as well as a cone of silence-type device to dampen any “uhhs” or schnarfglts.”

There is no shame in being a head dancer, and I say it’s about time that some protective gear for natural nappers came on the market. The only product that is available right now is Scotch tape to prop your eyelids open, and that’s only if you want to resemble a frantic Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory when Captain Picard is torturing him. Or is that his El Segundo mug shot I’m thinking of?

Either way, next time you or someone next to you startles themselves awake by whatever means, remember that it’s normal. We’re all more productive after taking brief naps in which we breathe like rodents competing in a hurdles event and achieve mighty victories over shadowy ninja assassins who try to steal our donuts. Even if we gain bruises and damage property upon awakening.


Here is the Bubblegum song on YouTube:


I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when awake. -Rene Descartes

©2011 H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninja.wordpress.com.

Seriously, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s