When I was younger and a frequent participant in sleepovers (after the prank phone calls and truths about our crushes and dares about ding-dong-ditching the neighbors had grown tiresome) ghost stories were my favorite. I listened with the hardened demeanor only a 10-year-old could have—nothing was ever scary enough. That is, until I heard the story that would lead me to jump onto my bed in the dark as an adult (or else lose my feet).
The story has its variations. Essentially, the protagonist is lying in bed late at night, awoken by the sound of something dripping in the house. Too scared to look, she reaches off the side of the bed to find comfort in her dog. The dog licks the hand, and with newfound courage, she searches for the source of the sound during a number of trips. After each trip, the dog licks her hand for comfort. It is only on the last trip that the protagonist discovers that the plinking sound that woke her is from her dog, who is hanging dead in the shower. Then it clicks. A stranger—whoever did this to her dog—was licking her hand from underneath her bed all along.
Creepy, right? It probably didn’t help that I slept on the top of a bunkbed at the time, with no soul occupying the lower bunk. To personalize this fear (and possibly to justify my irrational hatred of this body part), I became terrified of my feet being bare when in bed. I always envisioned some depraved individual consisting of mostly skin and bones, a-la-Gollum from Lord of the Rings, reaching up and dragging me into an abyss or hacking off my feet with a rusty hatchet.
For some reason, the fear of what may happen to extremities that dare leave the sanctity of your duvet is shared by many. A quick google search of “uncovered feet while sleeping” or “fear of feet uncovered” brings almost twenty million links—many asking if anyone else shares this fear. Consensus suggests that this trend stems from a lack of consequence from childhood irrational fears. With no consequence, why work to overcome our fears?
Sleep is essential for life. Without it, activities associated with digestion, cell repair, and growth are at risk; these occur most often during periods of sleep. Body temperature is now being seen as an important factor in the process of sleeping, with cooler temperatures being thought to cause sleepiness. Optimal sleep temperature is thought to be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, which is colder than my apartment (conveniently set at a nice, toasty 72 degrees when the thermostat is turned on). The bottoms of our feet contain vascular structures to help regulate heat loss, just like the face and ears. Thus, sleep scientists consider sleeping with a foot exposed to be a sleep hack, as it cools the body faster and sends you on the express train to SnoozeTown.
As a self-proclaimed sleep lover who can sleep whenever I want as long as I can get into a comfortable position, this goes against every fiber of my being. An exposed foot gives the stranger under the bed the perfect opportunity to attack. On the other hand, an exposed foot has the possibility to bring me to the Nirvana of sleeps. Refusing the prospect of good sleep surely seems like a consequence; it’s also a needed push to overcome my irrational fear of feet-stealing bed strangers. If more people knew that the benefits outweigh the costs—that feeling refreshed in the morning is a great trade for risking loss of appendages because of a boogeyman—would this fear eradicate itself?