Monday, 26 March 2012

4:30 Psychosis

Doesn't have quite the same ring as "4:48" but I have been waking up at 4:30 most mornings recently. (If the original reference is lost on you, it's the title of a play/monologue written by the late Sarah Kane. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in mental illness. Kane suffered from depression and eventually took her own life; whilst 4:48 Psychosis is not regarded as a suicide note it certainly provides an interesting insight into the suffering she endured in her later years)

Insomnia is a pretty common complaint. I'm sure most people have had times when for various reasons they've slept badly - exams, breakups, bereavements etc. You know the drill. You're physically exhausted but mentally can't switch off. You get into bed but no matter how you toss and turn, you can't get comfortable. You feel simultaneously too warm and too cold. You may drift in and out of sleep - each time you look at the clock some time has passed yet you feel no less tired. Your head and limbs ache no matter how you lie. Finally, your alarm goes off and you drag yourself up, battling the sometimes overwhelming nausea that follows a poor night's sleep.

I am what my GP has scientifically termed a "crap sleeper". As a baby I apparently slept pretty well, but as a child I remember being the first to wake up most mornings. I used to get up and make my Mum and Dad tea and breakfast in bed just for something to do. I always had a book beside my bed and I remember I used to keep a torch under my pillow so that I could read under the covers once the lights were turned out. I suppose if I'd have been a more annoying child who got out of bed and wanted to play all the time, my parents might have taken me to a doctor about my poor sleep patterns, but as it was they didn't really affect anyone else so I was left alone.

I go through phases of sleeping relatively well and phases where my sleep pattern is atrocious. I've tried a variety of medications (some work better than others but generally the better they work, the more of a "hangover" I have the following morning). I've tried cutting out caffeine. I've tried setting myself a strict routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. Generally my sleep is at its best when I have given up on trying to sleep properly. I'm not sure why, but that's the way it seems to work.

It strikes me as odd that sleep is such a primitive function and yet it seems to cause so much trouble. I've read a variety of articles on sleep patterns recently. They have suggested everything from having 2 hour naps throughout the day but never a long sleep to sleeping whenever you feel  tired. Sleep is an incredibly important function. Experiments into the effects of sleep deprivation have almost universally been terminated early because of the detrimental effects on participants. Lack of sleep will kill a person more rapidly than lack of food. Despite the obvious importance of sleep, there is no consensus on how we should do it best. Oh, and noone's exactly sure what it's for either!

Almost 3:30am not - suppose I should attempt to sleep again!


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