When the Sandman is Just Messing With You

As I sit here trying to shake the desire to sleep – at 11am – I’m thinking more about my sleep issues. I’m wondering what I did to tick off the Sandman, that he messes with me like this? No sleepy today, too much sleepy for the next 4 days. How do you get on the Sandman’s good side? My previous post showed what wakes me up when I do get to sleep. But the flip-side, is I suffer from extreme sleepiness at the wrong times of the day, most days, and have for most of my life as well.

Here’s an interesting blog about chronotherapy: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/19/sleeping-or-not-by-the-wrong-clock/

From the article: I have the light therapy unit I use in the morning. I have never tried melatonin. And this excerpt made me think:

Depression, of course, can become overwhelming, far more severe that it was for George. And sleep itself actively feeds severe depression — a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. A therapeutic full night awake under observation in a hospital setting instantly relieves the depression in about 60 percent of patients. This is one of the major, surprising findings of biological psychiatry. The problem is, after the next day’s recovery sleep the depression is likely to return. So the benefit is only ephemeral.

To counter the relapse, we begin daily light therapy at the end of the wake therapy night, enabling the circadian clock to readjust, with the result of sustained remission. [1] The benefit is enhanced with a very early bedtime the night after wake therapy, and early rising after recovery sleep. In patients with bipolar disorder, the effect is further magnified by the use of lithium carbonate, the mood-stabilizing drug.[5] A manic reaction is very rare, but it can be quickly dampened by staying in a darkened room for 14 hours. Such dark therapy can be just as effective as anti-manic (anti-psychotic) medication.[6]

Sleep feeds depression? I believe it. No sleep feeds mania. I believe that too.

But, and this is a big BUT, I am trying to keep my life going here and can’t stay up all night and then spend the next 14 hours  in a darkened room in case mania appears. I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly certain spending 14 minutes, let alone 14 hours in a darkened room with nothing to do would cause my mind to go wild, and it better also have padded walls in there. Or I would happily fall asleep. One or the other.


Places I have unintentionally fallen asleep over the years:

  • At my desk at school
  • On my work break
  • In my car when I stopped at a red light
  • In Team or Business meetings
  • In college classes
  • In Doctor’s waiting rooms
  • In the dentist chair
  • In the bath tub
  • On a park bench
  • In a taxi
  • At my computer

I don’t have narcolepsy, I know I am sleepy, I am fighting it when it happens. And I just do the head bounce and fall asleep for a moment thing – but it can be an extremely embarrassing or even dangerous moment.

When I was student teaching, I recall a school that was about 45 minutes away from home. I started planning on 1.5 hours travel time, so I could stop midway in a parking lot and nap for 15 minutes to avoid falling asleep at the wheel.

When I was teaching, after teaching all day we would crowd into warm, tiny rooms, darken them, and someone would put slides on the screen and speak in soft voices – that always got me. My head would start nodding, and the yawns would get so difficult to stifle. The school day started way too early for me, and by the afternoon I was barely functioning, despite any attempts to stay awake with coffee, food, sugar, walking outside first. This sleepiness felt like I had actually taken a sleeping pill and I could not fight it.

Last night, I went to bed at 11pm. I think I slept all night. My alarm woke me at 7am. I struggled to sit up. I put on a robe and made it downstairs. I don’t remember what to do yet. I go to my computer and check my calendar. It says make pork chops for dinner, but I don’t need to start that yet. It says I have a meeting at 1pm. Why am I up now? “Mommmmmm! Are you gonna make us breakfast or what?” My daughter comes to my rescue again. Mornings are easy for her, and she keeps me on track. “Mom, I need my allergy pill. Mom, did you pack us lunch?” All her little reminders can be irritating at times, but she knows I need help, and I don’t hide it any more. I can’t really, not from a 9 year old.

So the kids are on the bus, and I go back to my computer. Now what? I see my list of projects, but can’t remember or think through my fog to know how to do any of it. I make some green tea. I fall asleep before I finish it. I wake up with my preschooler asking if it is time for school yet? I have slept through it before, poor kid, and he knows to ask me. No, it is 11am, we have an hour. Phew. So I make some coffee, stretch, do some jumping jacks, wash my face with cold water and get ready to drive safely. Deliver him to school on time, go back home to my computer, and see that meeting is coming up soon. I’m not running it, just listening today, so no one should notice my fog. And we don’t use webcams, Thankfully, so no one sees me closing my eyes. I love working from home.

Now I start to wonder, did I eat breakfast? I look around for any signs. I don’t feel hungry, just sleepy. Ahh, yes, there is my oatmeal bowl. Should I have lunch anyway since it is almost 1pm? I have a slice of cheese and some red peppers dipped in ranch. I’m still so sleepy. Should I have more coffee? Or did I just have some, I can’t remember – everything is fuzzy. What should I do? I need to work today, but I don’t want to mess up tonight’s sleep with too much caffeine. And the coffee might not even help.

So why am I so sleepy today, after 8 hours in bed, then 3 more hours on the couch? Why? Why will I wake up at 6pm, work feverishly to catch up on my day work, and struggle to fall asleep tonight? Why does the Sandman mess with me so much?

I did have a terrible night of no sleep, 2 nights ago. I had a pain attack. I’m actually worried it was triggered by my reduction in alcohol. The pain and sleepiness started about 6pm, in my back and legs. I forced myself to stay awake until nearly 8pm. My legs were twitching like wild, and each twitch sent a painful zap from my spine to my toes. Then muscle spasms, more twitching, roll over, try to get comfy again, more twitches and zaps, roll over again, etc all night long. I try ice on my lower back, where the spinal cord injury is. I try stretching. I try motrin. I try a warm bath. I try sleeping through it.

So is today’s sleepiness still a recovery from a bad night a few nights ago? Was I using alcohol to settle these overactive spinal nerves? I definitely had a maintenance level of 2-3 whiskey drinks daily. Whiskey actually has anti-inflammatory properties. I don’t think I was drinking enough to depress my central nervous system? Interesting though. And sooo much conflicting advice out there. I think we have to figure out our own bodies and survive our daily battles in the way that works for each of us.



6 thoughts on “When the Sandman is Just Messing With You

    • Thanks Carolyn! You’re right. And I think so many people with any mental health issues struggle with sleep. It all works together, or against each other I guess. Feeling better today – just never know what kind of day I’ll have.

  1. You say you don’t have narcolepsy. Have you undergone a sleep test followed immediately by a day of nap opportunities (I forget the actual clinical name for this second part of the test)? Have you ever looked the Epworth sleepiness scale? The reason I mention these tests is because you have described my own life experience. I was finally diagnosed at the age of 58 with narcolepsy. You can grow up in an abusive family and be depressed and have narcolepsy too.

    • I certainly do have symptoms of narcolepsy and can score high on the epworth test http://www.stmaryhealthcare.org/body.cfm?id=555923, but only on some days. Some days I am not sleepy at all, and can’t fall asleep or stay asleep. I did have a sleep study, with the naps, but that was about 15 years ago, in my early twenties I think. At that time, they found that my leg twitching from my spinal cord injury woke me often, that I never went deeper than level 1 sleep, and that I often went directly into REM and stayed there too long. I can fall asleep quickly for naps. I’ve thought about another sleep study, but trying to improve my sleep quality on my own first. I’m actually doing many of the suggestions for narcolepsy already, smaller more frequent meals, and schedule naps.Thank you so much for sharing, and although I’m glad you were finally diagnosed, I am so sorry that you have sleep troubles too. Sure makes everyday life difficult.

  2. I can so relate. I have had sleep problems. I never feel rested and mostly feel sleep deprived even after getting a good amount sleep. I avoid taking naps just to ensure feeling tired at night. We do have to figure it out for each us, as you mention. xxoo

  3. Pingback: Up All Night, but Out of the Fog | Roots to Blossom

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