Friday, 20 January 2012

Rough sleeper

No, there's not an epidemic of insomnia, there's just a lot of people out there obsessed with getting "a good night's sleep."

Take no notice of all those "experts" with their miracle cures and relaxation techniques. Ignore all those warnings that if we don't sleep for eight straight hours, our health is in jeopardy.

It's all a load of bollocks. Even if we only get two hours' sleep, we can still function well enough the next day. And sooner or later our body will catch up on the missed sleep if it needs to. So throw all the dire warnings in the bin and relax.

I'm finally taking this more laid-back approach after years of erratic sleep patterns and failed attempts to get the vaunted "proper night's sleep." Instead of cursing the fact that I've woken up at 2am and trying in vain to doze off again, I've at last accepted that waking up doesn't actually matter and I may as well just stay cool and use my unexpected wakefulness to read a book, surf the net or send a few emails. And have a cup of tea and a biscuit. Maybe after a while I'll nod off again. Or maybe I won't. It doesn't really matter.

I know perfectly well that I've had nights of minimal sleep and spent the next day just as alert as if I'd slept like a log. If my brain rejects sleep, then perhaps it doesn't need it. But the idea of "a good night's sleep" is deeply embedded in our childhood by solicitous parents.

In the past I've tried sleeping pills but they were useless. I didn't fall asleep any quicker, and when I finally awoke I was so groggy it took me hours to get my brain properly focussed. Since then I've never tried any other "remedies" and I've gradually learnt to go with the flow instead of trying to force my body and brain to do what they don't want to do.

Wide awake at dawn? So what?


  1. hey nick,
    i have learnt that if i'm awake at an odd time i might as well go with the flow because worrying wont make me sleep but i cant agree that i get by the next day.
    if i'm tired i'm non-functioning and weepy. the weepy part is the worst.

  2. Well, Kylie, it seems that in your case you do need a minimum amount of sleep or you're in trouble the next day. Which means not being able to sleep is a real problem. I wish I could recommend some sure-fire sleep-inducer, but I don't know of one....

  3. I lived on broken sleep for years and still functioned by day. I am often awake when the last notes of 'Sailing By' float off out to sea, and well awake to hear the morning fishing forecast at 5.20 am. My problem is if I drift into sleep at six am I struggle for the day afterwards.

  4. Grannymar - I was thinking of you as I wrote the post. You manage to get by on a remarkable paucity of sleep.

  5. lucky for me i rarely have a problem sleeping!

  6. I quit worrying about getting enough sleep a while ago as it was keeping me awake. :)

  7. I once asked a psychatrist I worked with what was the best remedy for insomnia
    he said ( and I quote)


  8. Not entirely bollocks - there has been a fair amount of research in this area and some clear findings for negative health effects from chronic sleep deprivation:

    That said, it doesn't do much good to worry about it, since that tends to make insomnia worse. Sleep is important for me because I have the sort of job where I have to stay alert. Falling asleep in front of a patient is something of a negative for psychologists. And I've struggled with insomnia all my life. I have recently started taking a small dose of melatonin (the naturally occurring sleep hormone) on the advice of my OB-GYN, and it seems to be helping.

  9. Hey John, can I have the number of that psychiatrist?

  10. Kylie - Oh, that's okay then. It's only an occasional problem.

    Meno - Not just a joke! I was doing exactly that.

    John - I shall try following his advice this very evening.

    Myra - I think he's ex-directory. But you could still follow his advice....

    Agent - I notice the link is to a commercial website that would want to stress the idea that sleep disorders have serious consequences and require medical treatment.

    That said, I take your point about not wanting to fall asleep in front of patients! Perhaps you just need plenty of coffee to keep you alert? And perhaps I should try some melatonin.

  11. They say the older you get, the less sleep you need. I went through a period of constantly waking at 3am but seems to have dissipated now. However, I'm awake at 5:30am without fail... 7am's a liein for me and I just can't 'take a nap'. Ah I'll sleep when i die I figure.

  12. I believe WebMD is a reputable site, but how about the Mayo Clinic?

  13. Or, if you prefer, the Centers for Disease Control:

  14. As I've said before, Nick, I can sleep on a clothesline, any time, no matter where.
    BUT on the odd insomnia bout, like your good self, I just roll with it, the cuppa tea, the book what have you and soon everything resets again.
    Not worrying is the key.

  15. As seems the general consensus among your readers, there is no point in worrying about sleep. It's why teenagers should be left to do as much of it as they like. By strange law of nature, and how ridiculous, as we get older we need less sleep. Maybe because the big sleep waiting.

    However, whilst there is the myth of Mrs Thatcher, there is no doubt that CONTINUED lack of sleep does have potential to do your head in. Why do you think sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture? And an effective one.

    Three/four years ago I did not sleep. It was ridiculous. It didn't worry me. Neither did I throw pills at the problem. No point. I had problems which no pill could solve, the same problems which kept me awake. I made good use of that EXTRA time. However, eventually it took its toll and, this is the funny part, my doctor told me that "continual lack of sleep will mirror the same symptoms as being drunk". Indeed.

    And thanks for asking: Never have I appreciated sleep more than now that I am back on track. Can't recommend it enough. Please don't say it: Yes, I know I am writing this at 0437 hrs GMT. But then I had an early night. Getting up with the chickens.

    Sweet dreams,

  16. Baino - I'm no good at taking naps either. Except the last two weeks when the long-haul flight seems to have completely bamboozled my body and I'm taking regular early evening naps....

    Agent - Thanks for that. I'll try those two sites and report back.

    www - How very lucky you are. Jenny is much the same, she drops off practically instantly, at any time she feels like it.

  17. Ursula - Well, sleep deprivation as a method of torture, when you're prevented from doing anything else, is very different from normal sleep deprivation, where you're free to read a book, have a cup of tea, go for a walk etc.

    I know what you mean about drunkenness-type symptoms. But I find I can be drunk-like for half an hour and then mysteriously completely on the ball again. Glad you solved the problems and started sleeping soundly again.

    And I'm very used to being wide awake at 4.37 am!

  18. Agent - I see one effect of insomnia is said to be immune deficiencies, but I practically never catch anything. The link also says too MUCH sleep can be equally bad and can lead to weight gain, heart problems, stroke and depression. It seems you can't win.

    The second link reports on people who can't concentrate on things or can't remember things. But of course this needn't be due to insomnia, it could be due to distractions, general restlessness, being too busy, having worries, or all sorts of other causes.

  19. Okay, as a scientist, I just have to address this, The fact that you never catch anything is essentially meaningless. The articles are based on studies that includes many people, and statistically, your risk of various illness goes up when you are sleep deprived. Obviously there are exceptions, just like there are people who can smoke like a chimney and never get lung cancer. And most studies account for other factors when they make their conclusions. That's what control groups are for, and also the purpose behind statistical tests that hold other factors constant. They aren't saying that every bit of poor concentrate is due to sleep deprivation, for instance, but that even taking those other factors into account there is a significant effect for lack of adequate sleep. If you don't want to accept the research behind it, you sure don't have to. But I'm going to pay more attention to science than to anecdotal evidence.

  20. Agent - Okay, I accept I'm not scientifically trained and I'm maybe jumping to wrong conclusions. And I accept that we're talking about statistical predictions rather than personal anecdote. But the problem with statistical predictions is of course that they don't necessarily apply to individuals (like the chain-smoker who never gets lung cancer). So it seems to me that if I personally don't appear to suffer any serious ill-effects from insomnia, I should carry on simply adjusting to it rather than seeking medical treatment.

    But hey, I don't want you to waste huge amounts of your valuable leisure time nit-picking with the likes of me! All I can say is, if people feel their insomnia is tangibly affecting their health, then naturally they should consult their doctor/physician.

  21. If you are untroubled by insomnia and seem to be suffering no serious effects, of course you needn't do anything about it. Why would you? I wasn't saying anything about what you personally should do - I was talking about the research on how insomnia can and does affect many people.

  22. (And BTW, I don't see it as wasting my valuable leisure time, I see it as debating with a blogger I like.)

  23. Agent - Okay, fair enough!

  24. I have to agree that if you wake and can't get back to sleep there's absolutely no point in lying there worrying. Much better to get up and make tea, read a book or surf the net. Although, actually, according to the experts, surfing isn't a good idea because it 'wakes up the brain'. Well .. having suffered from insomnia of a sort for years, I found MTV rather fun in the middle of the night, and yes, I would doze off afterwards for a while, so ya boo sucks to them!

    But seriously, I can tell you from personal experience that if I do not get enough sleep, I ache like stink the next day. The reason is because I have fibromyalgia, which appears to be a disorder involving human growth hormone, or lack thereof. Now, human growth hormone is naturally produced by the body during deep (slow wave) sleep, but if you have fibro, or for some other reason don't reach deep sleep for long enough, you don't make enough HGF to repair and restore your tissues from the previous day's wear and tear. Ongoing lack of sleep leads to huge amounts of fatigue and pain.

    Obviously this isn't true for everyone, and some can and do get by on very little sleep. I can't, and nor can thousands of others. I need eight, preferably nine hours a night to function without pain the next day.

    Sad, but true.

  25. Jay - Well, again, if you have something like fibromyalgia that's a whole different situation. If you need 8 or 9 hours sleep to keep on top of it, so be it. I didn't know anything about the night-time production of HGH, that's interesting. And could explain why some people feel so wrecked after a lack of sleep.

  26. I am blessed with good quality and quantity of sleep. I do feel awful if I don't get to sleep my full quota.

  27. Ramana - Glad you sleep so soundly. Which must add to your discomfort on the occasions when you don't sleep so well.