No longer as truthful as should be deserved, some names, places and events deliberately vague to protect identities that aren't mine

Friday, 8 November 2013

Macbeth hath murdered sleep, and so Macbeth shall sleep no more.

Yes, I know that's not the word for word quote.

Some of my friends and I have a running joke that we were SS officers in a past life, who somehow avoided being reincarnated into dung beetles, and so the universe punishes us constantly in myriad other ways.

I've decided another of my past lives was Macbeth.  It would explain the whole not sleeping thing.

I'm notorious for not sleeping well.  Basically my body clock doesn't work properly.  Most people's reset when necessary, or struggle to keep going past the usual circadian cycle.  Most people's reset every night, the standard circadian rhythm (i.e. your internal body clock) is usually a little over 25h.  We operate a 24h diurnal cycle so most people's just reset a little every night.  It's usually quite easy for people to reset their body clocks.  It's how jet lag works.  It's also very simple for most people to shorten their circadian rhythm given they tend to do it every night. This is why travelling east and adjusting for jetlag is a lot easier than travelling west - you just go to bed earlier rather than having to stay up late.

My body clock has very little ability to adjust it's 0-hour starting position.  It's pretty much set around 4am UK time.  Sure, some nights I'm tired and it's 3am and some nights I'm up late and it's 6am, but it's more or less set around 4am.  With enough determination and access to appropriate diurnal stimuli (i.e. what time the sun rises, streetlights being on etc), I can move it about an hour or two in either direction.   This means I can cope with the clocks changing for summer time, though it takes me about 3-4 weeks to really get used to it from a sleep pattern perspective.  My body clock doesn't adjust that well as I move around the world either.  This means on the US East Coast, 2300 ET hits and I'm pretty much done and ready for bed (which everyone just takes as yet more proof that I was in fact, born in the wrong country).  When I go to the West Coast, I force it to a little, but my body very obviously still starts to wind down around 2130/2200 local time.  When I travel to Malaysia, it's not just a simple case of mid-afternoon slump for me; I find it nigh on impossible to keep awake in afternoons, no matter how bright the sun may be.  Luckily being equatorial/tropical in climate things like siestas are quite acceptable there, and afternoons are often more sedentary due to the heat, especially in the dry season.  I will happily find myself up all night and into the morning in Malaysia with no problems whatsoever.  In the US I'm a morning person because I naturally wake up rested then.  In Malaysia I'm morning person because that's evening and time to go out as far as my body is concerned.

The other major sleep issue I have, is that probably by decades of experience (I've had the above issue with sleep times since I can remember as a child) I'm used to running on empty.  Practicalities of living in the UK means I rarely get full opportunity to let my body do what it likes with sleep.  Whilst the theatre industry helped because start times are generally not 9am in the morning, there's inevitably something that needs doing, a chore I need to run, which I have to run before work during the day because at 1am when i finish a show those places aren't open.  I'm permanently tired.  And my body is used in a state of permanent sleep deprivation, to greater or lesser degrees as it varies throughout any given period of time.  I'll go out with friends and we'll be out all night and the next day they are wrecked.  And I'm tired, but I'll go shopping, I'll meet my parents for lunch, I'll go to work, I'll do all that, be up for 48h, and I will STILL not get to sleep until around 4am the next morning.  My body has stopped recognising sleep debt, tiredness, and sleep deprivation as indicators that something is wrong.  I can go to bed, and feel tired, but my body just won't sleep despite the fact it clearly needs to.  It's just desensitized to the normal factors and warning signs.

Occasionally, I get insomnia on top of all this.  My body stays up for around 3 days straight.  On the third day, I start to be notably sleep deprived.  Maintaining focus in a 1 on 1 conversation in a quiet room is difficult.  My muscles get a very specific type of ache that tells me they've been going for too long and my body's cannibalizing them for energy.  My body either can't eat and will only accept about 500kcal throughout the day, or it's desperate for energy because it's in overdrive so much with no rest, and I'll eat about 5000kcal to get me through the day.  What's concerning about this, is not the fact that it happens, it's the fact it happens regularly enough that I can highlight specific symptoms.

All this, means sleep is one hell of an issue for me.  I've ranted previously about how getting to sleep just doesn't work for me.  My brain simply won't ever shut off.  The thoughts in my head during the day just coalesce into more tangible dreams at night and continue going.  Staying asleep isn't too much of an issue for me thankfully.  Sure, I often wake up in the middle of the night, but I turn over and fall back asleep.  It's just my body doesn't go to sleep properly.  And I have severe trouble getting up.  I mean with enough determination and willpower (i.e. I have to go to work and get paid), I can just about do it, just like anyone can get up early when they really have to, but it's very obvious that my body doesn't start to ramp up the gears like most people do after waking up.  I have problems eating breakfast without causing horrific stomach cramps.  Which them means I'm low on blood sugar all morning making me even worse.  My mental processes obviously don't function properly.  I've lost count of the number of times I've almost been run over by a bus because it simply wasn't there as far as my brain was concerned.  It's not that I wasn't looking, or that it was in my blind spot, my optical processes just didn't process the existence of traffic on the road, or forgot that they move and didnt' factor in momentum accordingly.  Techies aren't designed for getting up in the morning, but we can do it, load-ins or events can require very early starts and you just get on and do it.  EVERYONE is tired.  It's why a good crew chief/production manager makes sure there is coffee around 10am. 

What techies as a whole are not good at, and bearing in mind all the above, what I'm really not good at, is 9-5hours.  Regularly getting up early and having to function and function well.  A few days, sure.  Even for 2 weeks straight in a mad run up to opening night of a production.  But day in, day out, no.

I'm currently averaging 3h52m sleep per night over the last 7 days and trying to do an office job.  It's not that I don't want to sleep.  It's not that I don't try.  I go to the gym for 2h each night till I'm EXHAUSTED so I make sure I get about 3.5-4h each night instead of 2-3h.  Tell me in what world that is sustainable.  And drugs aren't an option.  Sedatives have one of two effects on me: they make me tired, but not actually sleep, exacerbating the problem; or they have to be of such a strength that I'm either knocked out or feeling groggy for days.  Eventually after long enough I sort of pass out in a rather unexpected narcoleptic manner and sleep for between 36-48h.  The best I can do is hope and pray that with my current job, that falls on a Friday evening.

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