Monday, November 23, 2009

Sleep issues

As most of you know, I've got a sleep disorder. Today I was back at the doctor's office and got a new prescription and we discussed what disorder I have, exactly. The thing is, not much is known about sleep; it's still an undiscovered frontier in medicine. 5 years ago I had insomnia. After a few years on Amitriptyline, it's now evolved into delayed phase sleep disorder. During my pregnancy I didn't take any medication and I had irregular phase sleep disorder - which means that I have no circadian rhythm. I'd sleep from, say, 2am to 5am then from 10am t0 1pm, then maybe another hour or so in the late afternoon. As is often the case with medical diagnoses, these are little more than a description of the symptoms, sometimes translated into Latin.

All right, so why am I rambling on about this? Because I think a lot of artsy types see some sort of glamour in having messed up schedules. There's something romantic about being up at 1am, pounding out a story. Why bother getting drunk for inspiration when you can just get giddy from sleep deprivation instead? When the muse hits, you must be a slave to it.

My advice? Don't be stupid. Sleep disorders are no joke. People think I'm over-dramatic about mine, I'm sure, but I speak from experience. You don't want to go where I've been. I've had waking hallucinations - tons of them. I still hear voices in the background whenever I run the shower. I've had sleep paralysis, a half waking state where your brain shows you a nightmare and your body's still paralyzed from being in deep sleep, so you can't move or get away. The nightmares will involve things like people breaking into the house, some creature I can't see scrabbling around on the pillow over my head, bugs crawling in my mouth, and because I'm religious, I get a lot of demons perched on my chest trying to suffocate me. A normal person will have a couple of episodes of sleep paralysis in their lifetime. I've been through spells of having it 6-7 times in an hour. Trust me, that get's old. And if you're artsy, you may dream very vividly. I've dreamed in all five senses, so those bugs crawling in my mouth felt and tasted real.

On top of that there's the wear and tear on your body. Insomniacs are often sugar fiends, because we crave the energy rush, and so we're at a higher risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes. There are the constant stomach aches because your digestive system doesn't get it's regular rest and waking cycles. There's the anxiety attacks, which can range from waking up in the middle of a rare moment of sleep *panicked* about whatever you were dreaming (which is usually something pretty stupid, if you're me) to hours during the day when you can't focus, even enough to read a few lines of text. Noise in your head like static on a radio station that just won't quit.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mental repercussions. Sleep deprivation will cause you to lose control of your emotions to the point that you'll cry for no reason, for hours - like the time I was trying to get my make up done for my sister's wedding. I just had to sit in the corner and sob, for no reason, for about forty minutes (after an hour and twenty in the car beforehand). That's embarrassing. Or you'll find something funny and be unable to stop from laughing so loud that people jerk around to stare at you, or you'll get *so* angry that you just can't contain it. You have to punch the wall or break some glassware, and the rage won't leave no matter how you try to rationalize or calm yourself down.

Even when the symptoms aren't that severe, there's the irritation of being up at an unreasonable hour when you've worked so hard to be a reasonable adult. It's midnight right now, and I don't like going to sleep at midnight or later. I don't like sleeping in. I don't like looking like a slacker, but I also don't like looking like a whiner who has to explain to everyone that I can't help it, I have a "medical condition."

The upsides are not worth the downsides. I mean, okay, sometimes I wake up and am still dreaming (but am not parilyzed) so I see dreamscapes in my room which is rather amazing. I may open my eyes to find myself outside, or have a giant circuitboard covering the ceiling. (But that's also a pain if I have to get up and wait several seconds for the fantasy to fade so I can walk across the room and avoid all the real furniture in the process.) It was rather amusing, when my son was first born, to see what other people called "sleep deprivation". People who'd just go on and on about missing a couple of nights of sleep in a row or having to wake up a few times a night for months or years on end. That stuff's nothing.

The cause of sleep disorders is still a bit of a medical mystery. Mine may be from a brain injury (I was in a serious, head on collision when I was a child), or may have always been with me. It might be genetic, or it might be from never getting a good sleep pattern established. The thing is, if you don't have one, don't mimic having one. Go to bed. Lay off the caffiene. Let your problems rest until the morning. I don't know if bad sleep habits can, over the years, lead to a disorder, but I'd say don't risk it.

There's a conversation I have every now and then with someone who can't sleep because of a medication they're on or a tragedy in their life. It usually goes something like this:

Them: "What do you do when you can't sleep?"

Me: "How do you mean?"

Them: "How do you keep from being tired?"

Me: "You don't."

Them: "But I can barely function! What do you do?"

Me: 'Try to function anyway?"

It's the best answer I can give. In short, if you're up reading this in the middle of the night, consider going to sleep instead. There's no substitute for it, and trust me, sleeping like a grown up won't make you any less of an artist. It will just make me incredibly jealous of you.


  1. Reading this at 6:41 a.m., not too abnormal, except that I've been awake 4 hours....I sometimes have sleep issues but nothing at all like what you are describing.

  2. Yeah, I guess most of us have some erratic patterns. When I was first trying to get treatment, I had a doctor say to regulate my sleep cycle with medication whenever it got a little strange just to keep it from spinning out of control. Don't know if that's the current practice (might of made me worse, who knows?)

  3. coincidentally, I haven't been sleeping well and my brain is slowed down to a crawl and I'm grumpy!!

  4. I don't know what to say except Wow, and remind me never to complain about sleep deprivation again.

  5. :-( Ling. I hope that clears up soon!

    And no worries, Melanie. Sleep deprivation = bad, no matter how it stacks up to other people's.