Sleepless In Canberra (like Sleepless in Seattle without Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, the love story…. or pretty much everything else)

Well…. it seems that my last blog post received some of the reactions I was expecting.

The topic of my sleeping patterns required a entire blog post all of it’s own. And so here we are… believe it or not, there’s an actual reason for me only sleeping five hours a night. Plus I’m procrastinating from writing something else so….

High School.

To be more specific, a least desired part of High School: for two weeks of every year our Phys Ed classes were replaced with ‘Social Dance’ in which the boys and girls classes were merged (normally separate for PE) and we learned to dance. There was a few aspects of this I disliked, but you can read my book for the indepth discussion of that. (jump to the Camille chapter, it’s all covered there)

But the day I’m focusing on… was bad.

My eyes were watering. I was exhausted. I felt like I hadn’t slept in three days, because, well, I HADN’T SLEPT IN THREE DAYS.

One girl, whom we’ll call Paige, rotated around the circle, and she was so subtle and so elegant with her reaction to my appearance.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” She asked.

Every movement felt like effort. I looked like shit. The bags under my eyes had gone so black it looked like I was sporting two black eyes. My watering eyes were bloodshot as all hell.

You know how when you wake up from a dream, and think back over the dream you realise it had a sort of unreality to it? Like it was faded and different and in retrospect didn’t feel real? Well all of reality had that dream like state to it.

In the days that followed my body would relent it’s incessive onslaught of insomnia and allow me to get an hour or so of sleep. Due to sheer exhaustion it would hightail straight to REM sleep and give me a vivid dream. Unfortunately as all of the reality had the same dreamlike state to it, there was a brief period where I was unable to distinguish what I had dreamt from reality.

So adequately described in “Fight Club” everything felt like a copy of a copy of a copy.

On Day Two the doctor told me he couldn’t prescribe/advise sleeping pills due to tenous side effects. “Eventually your body should relent and sleep,” he said “Another day or so and you should be fine.” he said.

On Day Five when I returned to the Doctor’s office looking like I’d had my arse kicked and clearly had gone way too long without sleep he gave instructions to pick up sleeping pills, and some herbal alternatives called goodnight formula.

Day Six was spent mostly sleeping, but when I woke up I felt more exhausted than I went to bed. This was WHY he hadn’t wanted to prescribe sleeping pills in the first place. Plus everything still felt like unreality.

Day Seven I tried to sleep without the pills. Day Eight I managed to score a couple of hours sleep which was enough to sustain me.

After a few days the insomnia passed just as mysteriously as it arrived.

And then about a year later it made a return appearance.

I was at a different school by then so there were no dance classes. I did have to cycle to school though (my parents didn’t have a car so asking for a lift was out) and doing that for a guy who hadn’t slept in three days was sheer torture.

I would have awkward conversations with my friends about events that hadn’t taken place because I dreamed them in those two short hours of sleep my body had relented and given me after four days.

I’d walk up to attractive girl at school who I had never had any classes with and didn’t have the guts talk to and start a conversation because I remembered have a long and deep conversation the day before only to find I dreamt that and she had no clue who I was.

And just as mysteriously and quickly as the insomnia arrived it disappeared.

When it happened the next year I was ready. I started drinking Pepsi Max to keep myself coherent during insomniac days. If after three hours tossing and turning in bed I hadn’t drifted off to sleep I started doing school assignments. Oddly my schoolwork productivity increased, thought I did get my first C in an English class that semester (I always got A’s in English) so MAYBE that was a sign that the work wasn’t that ‘up to standard’ But in fairness I still got A’s in IT in the assignments I did on sleepless nights.

And, once again – say it with me now – just as mysteriously as the insomnia appeared, it vanished.

I had thought with school finished, with me working full time, not living at home, and being on medication that caused drowsiness that the following year I would be free of the insomnia for good.

I was wrong. I was so wrong I’m literally shaking my head as I write this. Oh Past Naive Liam. How I wish I could travel back in time and inform you of the days to come. Maybe tell you the technique that eventually rid me of the insomnia for good. But alas, time travel is currently impossible, and so…

It was 10:30pm at night. The time I normally went to bed. The time my uni student housemate mocked me for going to bed so early. Once joking that I was weak because I was getting a good ten hours sleep at night. (Yet also perplexed as to why I had so much trouble getting up in the mornings)

I’d taken my meds and lay in bed drowsiness kicking in making it hard to stay awake. I lay down in bed, lights off and waited for sleep to claim me. And waited. And waited.

Around midnight, desperately clinging to my last shred of sanity the unsettling sensation dawned on me was that the insomnia was actually defeating the drowsiness effects of the meds.

Shit.

By 2am I would’ve sold my soul for some decent shut eye. Please stupid insomnia rattled brain, please just allow the rest of the body to sleep. I tossed and turned. I shoved my head under the pillow. I switched on the light and tried reading. I tried warm milk. At 6am the sun began to rise. And I headed to work, walking around the city all day in a zombie like state.

If riding to school and social dance had seemed tiring on no sleep, having a 9-5 job which involved walking everywhere for most of the day almost killed me.

I took a day off work. Still no sleep.

On day three I grabbed some sleeping pills and succumbed to three days worth of exhaustion. For the next week I operated in an entirely different zombie state but it was due to the drowsiness of sleeping pills and not lack of sleep. Sleep I was getting plenty of.

I stopped taking them and a few months later the insomnia reared it’s head for a single night.

It was around this time I read an interview with writer Greg Wiseman who was asked about one of his characters who changed from one form to another overnight, and if the fictional character ever slept.

Greg’s response was “she gets by on very little. I get by on about five.”

My housemate’s mocking of my sleeping patterns, and the words of someone I greatly admired finally struck me. Would it be possible to get by on five hours sleep a day? I barely functioned on no sleep. But I functioned. And I was used to staying up late talking with my friend Sare at that stage. I’d done the five hours sleep unintentionally before.

And maybe if I trained myself to only sleep five hours a night I’d function a lot better when this bloody insomnia reared it’s ugly head again.

And so it began, surprisingly, it only took me about a week to get used to it. I’d have an energy drink in the mornings to wake me up, and I’d always had trouble waking up in the mornings before so that was relatively unchanged.

As my friend Alyce pointed out to me years later, I always look like crap in the mornings. I suspected this has always been the case, and can guarantee you that ‘looking like crap’ never went away during insomnia period.

Speaking of insomnia: with the five hours a sleep night it never happened again.

That sentence was worded awkwardly for a reason. Because many years later, at the insistence of friends and family members that only sleeping five hours a night wasn’t healthy, and was repeatedly sighted as a reason for my ‘perpetual lateness’ (despite the fact the ‘perpetual lateness’ dated back to primary school long before ‘late night Liam’ was around) I decided to give normal sleeping patterns a try.

For two weeks I reverted back to normal sleeping patterns. At first I was irritable about how much less time I had because I was sleeping all the time. I was moody, I still had trouble waking up in the mornings, I was still perpetually late, and I felt even more tired and exhausted all the time.

You know how you get cranky from over sleeping? Well by that stage that was me if I got more than six hours. (which yes, did happen on Saturdays and Sundays when the fight to wake up was a lot harder to justify) And I was getting 10 hours a night.

I was short tempered at work. Short tempered with housemates. Short tempered with my friends. I was an emo jerk.

So if course me being in the best of moods is when the insomnia reared it’s ugly head. It took one night of no sleep to send me running back to my five hours a night.

And I get it’s not ‘normal’. It’s normal for me though and I’m okay with that. When I lived in shared housing I was used to moving around quietly after midnight (or 10pm depending on when the housemates went to bed). When I go to the coast with friends, travel and stay at a friends house, I’m content to read and keep myself occupied until 2am when they’ve all long since gone to sleep.

It’s become so normal that I actually feel better when it starts getting darker outside. Once even going as to post an FB status on a particularly bad day that said “I wish it was night. I always feel better when it’s night.” (This immediately followed by my friend Stu informing me that was because I was a ‘gay sparkly vampire’. Ah friends, you’ve got to love ’em.)

I read up on polyphasic sleeping patterns earlier this year. Essentially sleeping for 20 minutes every four hours so essentially only sleeping for 2 hours a day. There other types of polyphasic sleeping, one in particular is spreading it out to equate to four hours a day, so with five I’m actually doing pretty well in comparison.

For the most part I function fairly normally. I look like shit in the mornings and am generally in dire need of either a run or caffeine to return to normal. Other than that you couldn’t tell I only function on five or so hours sleep.

It assumes me a little when I mention actions I’ve done 1am in the morning and see I look of disbelief on someone’s face. It’s a gentle reminder that to them 1-2am is a foreign time that is generally spent sleeping.

I remember watching a movie a couple of years back, it might have even been ‘The Santa Clause’ with Tim Allen, and there’s a scene where the father and son wake up in the middle of the night and it dawned on me that there was no longer an almost time of the night that if you’re awake during it doesn’t feel right because everyone else is asleep. Everyone is generally asleep when I’m moving about at night so that’s not unfamiliar to me.

I accept this may change when I get a girlfriend. (Note: I’m using the phrase ‘when’ now. OPTIMISM!) Unless of course she has the same sleeping patterns as me in which case I should probably marry her.

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