Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sleep is Good

Last night, I slept from midnight to 5:35am—overfive and a half hours of uninterrupted sleep. This is my personal best in consecutive hours of sleep—at least as far back as I can remember. I have always been a bad sleeper. I remember trying to defy sleep as a young child, sitting alone in my room with the lights on and staring at my Mrs. Beasley doll.  In the morning, I was convinced that I hadn’t slept a wink, though I’m sure I did. Now, I’d give almost anything for a good night’s sleep. With last night’s record 5-plus hours of straight sleep, I was so very excited when I woke up that I thought about how I would immediately post the news as my status update on Facebook later that morning (which I did). I still had time before my alarm was set to go off, so I tried to sleep some more. In the half hour or so of my continued sleep, I actually had a dream about celebrating how well I had slept. Sad, I know.

Part of me believed that everyone was like me when it came to sleep, or lack thereof. Then, several years ago, a co-worker described how she used to stay asleep during fire drills in her dorm when she was in school. I had a unique response: envy.  I was mystified. How could someone sleep through a fire alarm if I couldn’t even remain sleeping when the breeze caused all the neighborhood wind chimes to clang incessantly throughout the night? Damn the breeze and damn those wind chimes!  I found it particularly difficult to sleep through the night at that time and had even taken to downing several Tylenol PM pills before heading off to bed. When I told my doctor that four pills weren’t doing the trick, he seemed alarmed and told me he wanted me to do a sleep study. “You might have sleep apnea,” he ventured. “Don’t you have to be asleep for that?” I replied.

I arrived for my sleep study not really knowing exactly what to expect. Sign-in was at 9pm. As per orders, I hadn’t had any caffeine that day at all. I was pretty tired and knew that I’d fall asleep. Falling asleep wasn’t my problem—it was staying asleep that was the problem.  An hour or so into the nightly sleep, I’d wake up only to toss and turn the remaining part of the night until shortly before it was time to wake up, I would land in a restful sleep.  

The sleep lab was on the top floor of the hospital.  To get to the lab, you first had to cross through the seemingly abandoned hospice ward.  When I made it to the lab, the tech on duty greeted me and the other patient for the evening, an older man who brought a big bag of food from Burger King along with the largest size beverage they had.  He also had a portable DVD player and a few DVDs to help him while away the evening. I had only brought a book with me—very old-fashioned, I know. I figured the man with his big beverage and DVDs was doomed to a night of wakefulness, while I was at least going to try to make myself sleep.  

After check-in, the pre-sleep process began with the tech affixing a number of wires to my head—these wires attached to monitors. Everything was portable in the event that one had to use the restroom, which of course, I did. There were wires coming out of my head, wires in a harness around my chest, a pulse monitor attached to my finger, and lastly a plastic thingy that went up my nose. When the tech put this up my nose, she looked at me curiously and said, “Do you know who you look like?” I answered, “C3PO?” Thankfully, she could see beyond the wires and thought I looked like the Princess Bride and I was relieved that she thought I looked like a human being at all.

Once already hooked up, I could relax and watch television or read before I decided to turn in for the night. I read a little and watched some Seinfeld reruns. At one point, the tech came in to check on something and told me that the man next door had invited me to watch DVDs with him. I decided to read a little more and then hit the hay. The hay was a Tempurpedic™ bed with a light blanket and my pillow from home (they tell you to bring your own pillow, even though there are also pillows supplied there.) The room appeared to be furnished in cast-offs from some hotel clearance center and with the television hoisted high near the ceiling, the ambiance was motel-meets-hospital.  Slowly, I drifted off to sleep.

At least I was asleep for a short time—something like half an hour. I tried to get comfortable—made all the more difficult by the series of wires and doodads attached to me. I was unable to do my usual, violent tossing and turning. Sometimes, I was even known to become airborne while twisting in bed. It was as if I was on a rotisserie.  When I caught the blankets in my spin cycle, I was like a giant fork twirling spaghetti.  In the sleep lab, I wasn’t able to move in this way.

The tech was monitoring my sleep situation from outside of the room.  At one point, she came in the room to put my finger thingy back on.  At another point, she came back into the darkened room to retrieve some equipment. “I know you’re awake,” she said when she came in. Then, she found the c-pap machine that she needed for my neighbor, who it turned out was fast asleep the whole night despite the extra-large beverage, the movie watching, and his sleep apnea.

Weeks after my sleep study, I learned the results: I am a light sleeper. I didn’t hit my REM cycle until the end, right before it was time to wake up. I was pretty chronically sleep-deprived by that point. It also didn’t help that consciously or subconsciously, I was afraid to sleep in my apartment. I lived above a guy who smoked so much that I could smell the tobacco in my apartment. I also knew from the few times that I glanced into his apartment that his floor was covered with paper and other detritus. “Great”, I thought, “kindling.” And, I would plan my escape route in case of fire. This did not allow for a very restful sleep. My doctor put me on a medication,
Rozarem™, and that helped a good deal.

My sleep is much improved these days, but I still wake up multiple times each night. As long as the cumulative amount of sleep that I get is decent, I’m satisfied.  It used to be that I would stress out so much over the very little bit of sleep that I was getting that I developed anxiety about whether or not I would sleep the next night. Thankfully, I haven’t been in that trap lately. Given my past bouts of insomnia, my current sleep pattern is pretty good, but I’m still in such awe of those fairytale people who sleep 8 hours or more each night without any problem--those lucky bastards.


Just as suspected, the previous night’s regenerative sleep could not be repeated--at least not two nights in a row. I tossed. I turned. I spun around. I woke up a bunch of times. I feel like I got a decent amount sleep albeit interrupted by periods of being awake.  But I still hold out hope that I might beat my own record and sleep 6 hours straight. Maybe tonight.

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