The following is a thought experiment that I've been thinking about lately. A thought experiment, if you don't care to follow the link to Wikipedia, is essentially an experiment about something that you perform in your head based on things you know and what you can observe. In this sense, it's usually done because you can't actually perform the experiment in a lab environment although that's not the case here. I attempted to turn this into an actual experiment as it seemed possible at first, but that didn't work out as will be documented here.
According to observations, some people like to sleep entirely under the sheets and some people like to sleep with some or all of their limbs out from under the covers. While these differences are not usually a problem for people and often go unnoticed, the variance is curious. Differences in body chemistry and metabolism aside and assuming that a somewhat stable room temperature is secured, there should be an optimum sleeping position that everyone could and perhaps should adapt to.
First off, let's describe in summary how the body maintains it's own temperature. What comes to mind first is perspiration, where the body secretes moisture to rapidly cool the skin. What is less well known is the process where blood vessels expand or contract to increase blood flow and transfer heat. The blood carries heat from the torso and internal organs out to the extremities and the heat dissipates. If necessary, sweat glands kick in and take it one step further in the more familiar way.
For the most part, my thought experiment will concentrate on the legs, since this seems to be where the most disparity is in people's choice and preference. Some people like to sleep with their legs covered and some keep their legs uncovered. If we set personal preference aside, it begs the question; which method is most efficient?
- With the legs and the rest of the body covered completely, not only do the blankets greatly insulate the skin but they prevent the sweat from evaporating efficiently. This leaves the body working too hard to be cool. Blood vessels expand too much and the body sweats, sometimes quite a bit.
- With the legs and the rest of the body uncovered, the skin might be more easily cooled by the body's natural processes. But perhaps in standard room temperature this leave the body too cold. The body has to preserve heat and tighten up the blood vessels just to keep warm.
Both options are inefficient as it seems, at least to me. At this point, an idea occurred to me! Perhaps the best way to sleep is a compromise with one leg covered and one leg uncovered. If we assume that the blood vessels in each of our legs can work independently to contract or expand, and if we assume the blood circulates through the entire body and spends an equal time in each leg, then the alternation of hot and cold can work with the body for perfect comfort. The hot leg can expand the blood vessels and dissipate excess heat, and the colder leg can contract the vessels and keep in warmth.
Normally, I sleep with both legs covered and I've never given much effort to trying it any other way. I also can't remember why I started doing it that way, but we can all change our habits. So all I had to do was to give this a try to prove my theory.
So I Gave It A Try…
This was a bad idea. And I don't mean that it was a bad idea for me, but this is such a bad idea I believe strongly that no other human being should try it. Ever!
There's something in all my thought experiments and musings that I'd completely forgotten. A hard truth that is inescapable and should not be ignored no matter how much it might seem inviting to do so. You can't escape from…
The Boogieman Factor
That's right, the Boogieman! I remember now why I keep both my legs covered at night: FOR SAFETY! I don't know how anyone can sleep with their legs unprotected. Of course, I understand this is a fear born from childhood and that some might attempt to insist that it is irrational. Screw that! When it's the dark of the night and your thoughts start to drift in that zone between wakefulness and sleep… Well, I don't care how old and mature and sensible you think you are. You keep those legs covered with your sheet and blanket because it's the only thing that keeps you safe from the evil monster living beneath your bed or in the closet. I … can't explain how or why the sheets repel this beast, but it doesn't matter because they do. Go ahead and make fun of me if you want to, but I'm 34 years old and am not ashamed to take the proper precautions to protect myself! That's all I'm going to say about it.
"Tee-hee-hee" came the sound. "Did you hear that?! OH NO!"
Disclaimer: I'm just trying to be funny. Or perhaps that's just what I'd like you to believe.