Thursday, 17 September 2015

Imagine you had to do everything 2 hours earlier than normal

Actually me in my sleep lab pretending to be a patient for a photo shoot!
So your alarm went off at 4.30 in the morning and you snooze it for 30 minutes in disbelief because it feels so damn early. By 5 you’re awake but not up, every muscle in your body screams to stay in bed and your eyes refuse to open for more than a few seconds before collapsing under their own weight. Somehow you drag yourself to the shower and by 5.30 you’re standing wrapped in a towel looking longingly at your bed and wondering if you just got back under the covers if today would go away. But you know it won’t.

Clothes now; which ones? You’re not awake enough to make proper decisions about how you want to look today. Do you have meetings? Yes. Do you need a blazer? Probably. Do you have anything other than a pink cardigan clean given that you’re in a green dress?  No. Do you care that you’re in a green dress with a pink cardigan? Urm… damn it, yes. 

By 6.30 you’re dry and dressed. But still not awake. You go to leave for the bus but realise you haven’t fed the cat (who is infuriatingly still asleep on your bed) while feeding the cat you find your glasses that you lost a few days ago on the top of the fridge and check your watch for the time to realise you have no idea where your watch is. You go to find shoes but your legs have swollen from standing and now your boots don’t zip up. You spend a couple of minutes looking for your comfy yellow shoes and remember they’re under your desk at work. You find different shoes and wince as the hole you rubbed into the ball of your foot yesterday catches on the edge. You can’t do the buckles up.  Your hair gets in the way when you look down to concentrate blocking your view. Right, put everything down, ouch you caught your hair in your handbag strap, sit down, and buckle your shoes, then get up, and pick everything up again. Ouch you caught your hair in your handbag strap again. So not awake. So stressed. So much has gone wrong. So not going to cry, keep it together. 

Now it’s 6.40 ish (remember – no watch) and you’re at the bus stop. ‘Why are you at the bus stop this early?!’ screams your brain and you shiver as you took off the pink cardigan and your metabolism hasn’t woken up yet and is refusing to keep you warm mainly because you haven’t eaten yet but that’s because your stomach thinks food sounds disgusting and is making you feel sick in protest of the early start. You’re late for the bus which should have come at 6.34 but you’re hoping it’s late. Damn being sleepy, if you’d only gotten up a couple of minutes earlier, or was on the ball quicker, then you might have made it to the bus on time to be at work for 7. 

A bus appears at around 6.53 and you’re at your desk by 7.30 (having picked up a bacon roll on the way as your stomach might just be tempted into life with bacon). You’re an hour later than your goal. Damn. Waking up earlier seems impossible as does being more awake and quicker in the morning. You try to inventively curse all mornings and morning people but your vocabulary hasn’t woken up either and all you can manage is something a 14 year old would call poor at best.  Defeated you go in search of coffee.

You now work your way through the day, perking up around 9ish. You pack up around 4 having been sluggish in the morning, and get home for 5. You’re exhausted having been awake so early and every muscle wants to go back to sleep. You know you shouldn’t though as you need a proper sleep tonight. You power through doing things that require little energy like ordering food. By 6 exhaustion beats you and you collapse into bed in whatever you happened to be wearing at the time. You know you haven’t done the washing up, or the hovering, or been to your gym class, or put laundry on so you don’t have to wear pink cardigans with green dresses, or organised for your faulty suitcase to be picked up, or argued with the electricity company about who supplies your flat, or fed the cat again – but you just don’t care. 

At 10.00 you wake up. You’re really awake. Damn, you knew going to sleep early would disrupt your sleep cycle. Your stomach reminds you that you didn’t eat dinner; the cat reminds you she hasn’t had dinner either. In the dark, so as not to wake up any more, you shuffle into the kitchen, put some toast on and feed the cat. 2 slices of jam on toast later you shuffle back to bed and try to get back to sleep. You’ll wake up with enough time to have a proper meal in the morning.

10.30 Still not asleep.

11.00 You could get up and do the chores? That would wake you up though wouldn’t it?

11.30 Why can’t you sleep? You have to be up in 5 hours.

12.00 4 and a half hours.

4.30 Your alarm goes off and you repeat the whole damn thing again. You are too tired to get up early enough to eat a proper breakfast, or any breakfast really, you skip the shower in preference of dry shampoo, it’s not like you went to the gym and got sweaty anyway. You’re late for the bus again, having had a rotten night’s sleep again, you panic again…..

This has been my life for the past 2 weeks. Only let me mention one thing: all the times are 2 hours earlier than they should be. I have written what my day feels like not what it is. It’s called phase shifting and it means that my internal body clock is wrong basically. So I don’t get up at 5am, its 7am but it feels like 5. I don’t have random insomnia between 10.00 and 12.00, its 12.00 and 2.00. Do you see? Now re-read that day and it suddenly seems very odd doesn’t it? 

Having worked in chronobiology I am aware of all the normal reasons that sleep can be disturbed; I’m avoiding light when I should, I’m getting light when I should, I’m avoiding caffeine when I should (half-life of 6 hours so that double espresso you had at 9am is the same as having a single espresso at 3pm… or half an espresso at 9pm) I’m avoiding cognitive stimulation at night, I’m using mind settling techniques, all of it! I have considered the shift between summer and autumn meaning there’s less light exposure in general however Manchester has seen very little of ‘summer’ this year so I doubt it could be that. If anything I am more exposed to natural light at the moment having done several client visits recently. So there’s no apparent external stimulus that could be causing it. 

So looking internally the other thing I could potentially attribute it to; is stress although I don’t consider my job stressful. It could potentially be lack of a holiday for the last couple of months so I have booked myself some time off with a mix of down time at home to relax and time away for a change of scenery. 

However that doesn’t help me in the short term as I am essentially loosing 2 hours of every day: I lose 2 hours of sleep in the mornings when my body thinks it’s too early to get up but I drag it out of bed anyway, and I lose 2 hours of productive time in the evenings because my body just wants to go to sleep as soon as I turn the key in my front door! I do of course get that time back in a terribly convenient block of insomnia between midnight at 2am which is no use to anybody so I count it as time lost. 

It also means that I’m constantly running at higher sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is basically tiredness, so the more you’re awake the more tired you get. So, when you sleep, this pressure drops, quickly at first but lower as you become less sleepy. See the green line? This person is awake from 7am to 10pm so their sleep pressure rises, then they sleep till 7am and it goes back down. It does this regularly and evenly each day. Now look at the purple line. That’s me. So I start the day feeling like it’s earlier, so I have higher sleep pressure, so I have a nap at 6pm because I am really sleepy, then I wake up at midnight, back to sleep at 2 but I’m not back to meet the green line by morning. Now I’m starting day 2 on even higher sleep pressure to begin with, I repeat the day and now I’m even further away from where ‘normal’ is. See how easy it is to be completely different from normal in just a couple of days?

I am hoping that soon I will just totally exhaust myself and I won’t wake up at midnight and then I might have a shot of getting back to somewhere that doesn’t feel like trying to watch all of lord of the rings in one sitting! Well I have a holiday booked in a couple of weeks’ time so that should do it if it doesn’t correct itself in time.

Chronobiology is interesting but damn annoying at the moment!