Julie Lyles Carr: My Second Secret Sleepless Life

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Second Secret Sleepless Life

union terminal clock edit

I suppose it's apt.

My fascination with clocks.

Tick. Tock.

I have a life I lead during the daytime. I'm energetic. Happy. Busy. Fairly focused.

And then.

It hits 5:30 pm. 7:45 pm.

And I'm exhausted.

I speak pretty frequently in the evenings or need to race all over town to pick up kids from various activities, so by sheer will and lots of grace I keep my energy up until I'm done.

But then.

Well, then....

By 9:30pm or 10, I race for my bed. And curl up. And fall deeply asleep.

For a while.

Until I wake up.


2:47am. 3:12am.


Absolutely, positively awake.

And I usually stay that way for a long time. At first I try to ignore that I'm awake. It doesn't work. I admit my awakeness and my nightly routine of research on my tablet or smart phone begins. I run bunny trails. I come up with new material. I ponder mysteries. I find answers. All through the quiet dark. My eyelids begin to drop again as the sky is moving from inkiest black to moody gray. And that's when I sleep again. Very deeply. With vivid and active dreams, dreams which resonate with vision and color and music.

And then it's time to get up.

And heavily abuse caffeine.

Coffee. It's what makes this lifestyle work.

In my midnight meanderings, it finally dawned on me to research broken sleep, insomnia, shattered sleep cycles. Partially to find a solution. Partially to see if it was really a problem. My findings have been conclusive.

Not really.

Not conclusive at all.

But if you lead a double life like I do, maybe there are some things here that can help.

1. There is actually a whole nocturnal tribe who believe this bifurcated sleep style is fine and normal. It's called biphasic (or polyphasic....or segmented...or divided...or bifurcated...or bimodial) sleep (apparently insomniacs have a hard time making up their minds...).  It's based on a the theory that back in the eras of no electric light at night, people came in from a hard day of hunting/gathering and  conked out for a little while and then  awakened through watches of the night to engage in family life and then would sleep again.  There are people who actually pursue biphasic sleep as a lifestyle, believing that it helps them have more productive hours during a twenty-four period.  I don't know why, but finding this 'official' designation describing what I was already living made me feel...validated.  Like maybe not just bad at sleeping, but biphasic/polyphasic/segmented/divided/bifurcated/bimodal.  My only complaint is that I have known unbroken sleep, a banquet of uninterrupted dreams and for me, it has a far better rested outcome than its biphasic sister.  When I do catch a glorious night of uninterrupted sleep, I awake refreshed and feeling alert.  When I more typically emerge from a sleep-wake-sleep-wake situation, I feel morning sick.  And news alert~~I am not expecting.  And part of the benefit of not being pregnant is that you shouldn't have to feel morning sick in the morning. Only seems fair.   But some researchers are now saying that biphasic sleep can be good for us, is more honoring of our pre-electric light past, can be refreshing and restful.  If they could remove the resulting nausea I experience, then I could be all on board.  You can read more about biphasic sleep by clicking here.

2. It's not about falling asleep, it's about staying asleep.  Once upon a time, I disdained sleep.  I was the kid at preschool who thought the most idiotic use of time during the school day was a nap.  I would lay on my plastic mat (oh so comfy) and scoff at the napping sycophants around me, marvel at their willingness to be herded like cattle into a group nap brainwash.  My mom tells me that even as a baby, I believed sleep was for the weak.  That life philosophy continued a very long time.  I was on a radio morning show and had to hit the studio by 4:30 for content development and be ready to go on-air by 6 am.  I would leave the radio station and go directly to the television station, working unbelievable hours and arriving back home just in time to pound out a few zzzzz's and then start all over again.  Mike was a similar kind of gerbil back in those days.  We worked hard, played hard.

Then we started having babies.  My working theory is that you have so many all-nighter cards you're given for a lifetime.  And once you trade all those in, it's over.  You will now officially require sleep.  For me, it culminated with the twins.  We had moved to a new city five weeks before they were born and I was now a mother of eight in a city where I knew no one and had no family, with a husband who was constantly gone as he began his new position.  The twins had made some secret inter-utero pact that they would never sleep at the same time during their babyhoods.  I stayed up and up and up.  I cashed in every all-nighter card I had left in the deck.

In my sleep research, there are lots of remedies for the person who has a hard time falling asleep.  That's not my game.  Nope.  If I get still and partially reclined, I can fall asleep.  Just like your grandpa after Sunday dinner.  Out.  Done.  Down for the count.

But then....

Here comes 2:17am.  And my eyes fly open.

Melatonin is a sometimes friend, but it works best for helping people fall asleep at an earlier time in evening.  If I take it at my 'normal' bedtime, I still wake up in the middle of the night.  I've experimented with taking some at that magic 2:17am with mixed results.  Sometimes I do seem to fall back asleep faster, sometimes I don't.  But when the sun rises and I must get up, melatonin taken in the middle of the night seems to compound the fuzzy, stomach turning wake-up call.  A friend of mine has the same challenges I do with sleep and has told me that glycine has helped her tremendously.  It's my next stop on my quest for full rest.  You can read more about glycine by clicking here~ and hey, if Dr. Oz says it, it must be true, right?

3.  Stressing about sleep is counter-productive.  This I have figured out.  When this whole biphasic sleep cycle started for me four or five years ago, it really stressed me out at first.  I wouldn't awaken going through my to-do list, but as the hours clicked by, the reality of the impact that my exhausted state was going to have on my ability to work through my to-do list began to play havoc with me.  So I've now decided to simply relish the quiet when that 2:17am moment hits.  I mentally put aside the concerns about how this will impact the next day and I just enjoy being curled up next to Mike, enjoy the quiet in a house that is rarely quiet, enjoy the time I can spend arranging my thoughts and praying and constructing stories in my head.  I'm awake.  I might as well make it a happy time.

4.  Going to bed later seems to help.  It seems completely counter-intuitive and my research is still in the early phases.  But....this looks promising.  I am usually completely exhausted by 9pm and can easily be tucked in, lights out, pillow-pounding by 10 or 10:30pm.  So when my eyes fly open at 2:17am, I've had four to four and a half hours of sleep.  So I've been playing a bit with when I go to sleep on the front end.  It's not easy for me, but if I can stay awake until 12:30am or 1, I seem to make it through the night with a minimum of waking.  Not every time, but a lot of the time.  Right now, my primary goal is to awaken and not feel like I'm experiencing non-pregnancy morning sickness.  I'll move on to loftier goals of full restfulness and refreshing later.  One step at a time.

So weigh in. What about you?  What are your sleep challenges and solutions?

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