Monday, April 6, 2009

Reverse Insomnia? Diary of a Dream Junkie

Is there such a thing? I think there must be, because I have it.

Throughout my entire life, I have been a heavy sleeper, just ask my husband - he's tried any number of times to wake me up, and I just can't until my brain is good and well ready to let me be awake. I have been one of those people whose body required 12-13 hours of sleep a night in order to feel well rested and not be a sour, cranky brat in the morning (more if I was stressed or depressed). When I was about 10 or 11, I scared my mother half to death by coming home from school one Friday and falling asleep immediately after dinner... I didn't get up again except for half-awake trips to the bathroom until Monday morning.

Sleep has been many things for me, and I used to call it "my favorite past-time". In some ways it still is, I enjoy my sleep. Despite odd and sometimes downright strange dreams which plague it - as a child I learned to escape into my dreams and was able to have lucid dreams regularly. I had a sleep study done about 3 years ago (they thought I might have apnea due to enlarged tonsils), and they found the reason that I slept for so long.

Briefly, for those of you who don't know, there are 5 stages of sleep, differentiated by how deeply you are asleep and how active or inactive your brain is (time the average person stays in the phase is in parenthesis)

1 - drowsiness - known more commonly as dozing. That period where you're almost but not quite asleep, but can still be aware of what is going on around you. (10-15 minutes)
2 - light sleep - about the same as drowsing, but with no awareness of whats going on around you, body temp drops and your brain slows to prepare to enter deep sleep (10-15 minutes)
3 & 4 - deep sleep. You're not dreaming, your body is relaxed almost completely, and you enter into "delta pattern" sleep. The only difference is how deeply you are sleeping, which they can tell by how long your brainwave patterns are. (10-15 minutes)
5 - REM sleep - you're asleep and dreaming. This is considered the period which you must obtain in order to feel "rested and refreshed"...if you don't dream all kinds of things go wrong with your sleep pattern. (10 minutes to 1 hour depending on how long you've been asleep)

Apparently, unlike a normal person who takes approximately 90 minutes to go through all of the phases leading up to REM (the pattern goes 1-2-3-4-3-2-REM) and then stays in REM sleep for approximately 10 minutes before repeating the cycle, I stayed in phase 1 for about 45 minutes, and then would immediately drop in to stages 3 and 4. I would then alternate between stage 3 & 4 for about 2 hours, before finally hitting REM sleep, where I would stay for only 5 minutes during the first cycle.

In a normal person, each time they go through the cycle, REM sleep goes from 10 minutes up to an hour, each time they cycle through, the REM period extends. That means for the average person, the last hour they spend in sleep, they're dreaming, which is why people typically only remember their last dream...they have quite a lot of them during sleep. The average person, getting 8 hours of sleep a night, goes through the cycle an average of 5 times, having a total REM period of 2 hours of that 8 hour period.

In order to get the same amount of REM sleep, and thus feel as "rested" as an average person, I had to sleep for up to 2-3 hours longer. Since I stayed in stage 3 & 4 for up to 2 hours before hitting my first REM, and each cycle only shortened the Deep Sleep period by about 25 minutes, my typical night to feel rested required a minimum of 11 hours of sleep.

To make things even more fun, I have *never* been a morning person. Say what you will about it being a psychological thing, I have *always* been cranky during the morning even as a kid. My brain functions better at night, or after I've been awake for at least 3 hours - because I also have something called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. In a nutshell, DSPS means that I'm one of those people who, instead of being able to go to sleep at the same time every night, I tend to stay up later and later into the night, and subsequently get up later and later the following circadian rhythm is off by about 2 hours... my body clock thinks there are 26 hours in a day, and I have a very hard time regulating it...thus never being a morning person.

So why all this talk about sleep? Because for the past 4 and a half months, my sleeping patterns have been altering radically. I thought nothing of it in January and February, because I was in St. Louis, and the apartment there has a french door and a huge window in the master bedroom that face southeast, thus waking up between 9 and 930am after going to sleep around 1am didn't seem all that strange. But here it is, almost the middle of April, and I'm back in Suffolk, sleeping in a bedroom that faces due West, with black out curtains in the windows and very little if any sunlight coming through the East facing (and very tiny) bathroom window...and I'm waking up between 8 and 830am EVERY DAY.

Why is this a problem? Because my body still thinks there are 26 hours in a day. I still don't fall asleep until between 1 or 2am. Last night I didn't fall asleep until 3am! This morning I was wide awake around 820am! The sun isn't even out. It is a rainy, dreary, grey day And here I sit at the kitchen table, 2 hours, 2 cups of coffee and my morning dose of Adderall (for ADD) later, and my brain is *still* barely functional, and my body is still rather jelly feeling, and yet when I layed in bed for 20 minutes after waking up, I was still unable to go back to sleep.

*sigh*... I need more sleep.



Audrey said...

Maybe you need a CPAP machine. Hubby was going through the same thing - got the machine and sleeps great! Well rested, more energy.

Heathen's Hearth said...

Well according to the docs that did the sleep study, I only had a very mild apnea, and once they removed my tonsils that went away. (I had literally, my whole life had tonsilitis about 3-4 times a year and they had reached a state of permanent inflammation and were closing off my throat when I was sleeping)

The issue doesn't seem to be my breathing, its just the way I sleep, my brain doesn't quite do it the way its supposed to. For the most part this hasn't ever really been an issue, since I haven't worked in 7 years, and when I did work, it was evenings/nights more often than not.

The issue now, is apparently this is just a reversal of my lifelong sleeping habits, and suddenly I'm getting less than 7 hours sleep a night, and then spend the first 4 hours I'm awake with a brain like the walking dead.

CPAP machines terrify me. My dad and several of my friends use them, and quite frankly, they'd have to put me on so many tranquilizers to allow me to sleep with something on my face that it wouldn't be worth the effort. At that point, I think I'd rather just have them give me the tranquilizers to use as sleeping pills. LOL

Anonymous said...

If you are suffering from sleep problems such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea, you need to consider this problem seriously and adopt specific measures at the earliest to get back your sleep. Regular exercising is one of the options to ensure sound sleep at night. Altogether, if you are unable to get adequate sleep during night, you can undertake certain initiatives to overcome your sleep problems such as fixing your sleeping as well as waking schedule and abstaining from alcohol, nicotine, tea, coffee et al before hitting the bed.

Anonymous said...

Sleep patterns in my life are
reversed. I am up all night
and sleep all day (or until
I awake 3, 4 in the afternoon).
I would like to be on the same
schedule as others but can't seem
to do it.
I use a CPAP machine.
Any advice for changing my
existing habit.