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Night and Day

  • Posted on September 30, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Sleep is a peculiar thing. You’d think it would come naturally. I’m sure, for some people, it does. But not for me and not for many of the people I know.

A circadian rhythm refers to a natural, biological process attuned to the 24-hour day/night cycle of the earth. In theory, human beings sleep according to a circadian rhythm that attunes them to the day/night cycle. We sleep best at night and are most alert during the day. The night shift, of course, changed that for some. Others, myself included, faced life challenges that disrupted their circadian rhythms.

Though the boys have gotten much better at sleeping at night, not to mention sleeping long enough to get a good rest, I have found restoring my circadian rhythms much more difficult. My body tends to slide through the week.

For example, last week I was so far behind on my work and coursework, I shorted myself on sleep and tried to be awake during the nights so I could have a longer period of uninterrupted work. I was firmly entrenched in this cycle by the end of Wednesday, which had repercussions I’ll discuss in my next post. I spent the week working at odd hours, sleeping at odd hours, and my sleep was definitely not cyclic in nature.

This week I’ve committed myself to a day schedule. I spent my day of rest (Sunday), resting up from my wee-hour work day on Saturday, eschewing caffeine, and going to bed early (for me) on Sunday night. I woke refreshed this morning and ready for a full day—at least, I hope so! Yet, despite the best of intentions, I suspect I’ll slide back into an irregular schedule by the end of the week.

What’s decidedly worse is that I tend to rely on external chemicals in order to get to sleep regardless of when I do it. I take between 6 – 10 mg. of melatonin and a full-strength OTC sleeping pill (the equivalent of two Tylenol PM pills, without the acetaminophen). And that’s when I’m already quite tired and feeling “ready to sleep.” When that is insufficient, I usually add a third melatonin to push me over the edge of consciousness into sleep. Most of the time, it works. But sometimes it doesn’t. Usually, I’m up and alert after 5 – 7 hours of sleep. Only when I am unwell can I get the 8 or 9 hours people tend to claim we need.

Mark, on the other hand, will take a full-strength OTC sleeping pill on the nights he can’t sleep and sleep for 12 hours straight—and he’ll sleep hard! I find myself facilitating from envy to resentment, wondering how he can manage to stay asleep so long. Seeing that neither envy nor resentment are good qualities/emotions, I try to put off such feelings and instead embrace with gratitude his willingness to cope with my sleeping peculiarities, so that (most of the time) I can sleep when I need to regardless of the time of day.