Missing the Sleep

February 2, 2008

Sleep has ALWAYS been a problem area in my life. I remember regular times in elementary school when I would lay awake for hours before I had any hope of falling asleep. When I first learned the word insomnia, I remember thinking “Oh… wow… so other people have this problem, too.” High school and college were especially sleep-deprived years. (My junior year in high school, especially.) And here I am, now… still struggling with the sleep thing.

I think I get more sleep on the night watch than I have at any other time in my life, on any other schedule. After staying up well into the AM hours, I tend to sleep rather soundly. But most of my friends still know me as sleep-challenged.

Considering how little sleep I get sometimes, I actually tend to function rather well. Usually, people can’t even tell the difference. I’ll confess that I am somewhere around hour 30 of being awake, and the person I have been working with for the last several hours will respond with great shock. I can sleep for two hours and have several people tell me that I look bright-eyed and well rested. And I tend to especially crush my opponents if I play Settlers of Catan after a night of little sleep.

I wonder, though, if people can’t tell the difference because they have rarely (if ever) seen me when I am actually well-rested. Perhaps they think that I am always that inarticulate. Perhaps they think that my face just… looks like that. Perhaps they have never encountered me when my mind is sharp and my body isn’t longing for a break. Perhaps they don’t see anything out of the ordinary because that is the ordinary.

There are days (more of them lately) where my sleep-deprivation gets the best of me and it becomes quite apparent to all that I have not rested. Days when I can’t complete a sentence, my eyes are burning, I’m generally dull, I laugh at more stupid things than usual, and I can hardly walk straight… or even stand up, for that matter. But, for the most part, I seem to get away with it.

My closest friends can usually tell when I haven’t slept. Though they are certainly in danger, after these last few months, of adjusting to this new norm. But I think that those who are closest to me know that I am capable, sometimes, of speaking and actually saying what I mean to say… of having remotely intelligent thoughts.

To some extent, I can tell the difference.

At the same time, though… my vocabulary often seems to improve at the times when I am most sleep-deprived. I would love to understand why that is. Perhaps it is only my fuzzy perception of my vocabulary and not actual fact. But I find myself more easily accessing certain words at those times (while struggling to find some of the easy ones, like fork). And I will often pause after saying something and realize, “Wow, I haven’t used that word in a really long time.”

Much of my life, the experience of laying awake for hours had a lot to do with an inability to relax the activity in my mind. Sometimes it’s just observation and analysis and contemplation. But, at the times when my ability to sleep was most impaired, I was in the depths of my struggles with anxiety. There’s a reason that my speech at my high school graduation was all about Jesus and worry.

Lately, though, this hasn’t as frequently been the culprit. I have the occasional night when my mind won’t stop racing. However, my internal traffic calmed significantly in the last several months.

And then we have resignation. After so many years of little success in the arena of sleep, I just kind of adjusted to it. I resigned to that struggle as the unavoidable reality of my life.

And then we have the factor of poor choices.  After so many hours of laying awake in bed, you eventually just give up and get out of bed. Eventually,  you stop waiting as long before giving up on the sleep thing. And… once you’ve learned that you can function relatively well, with seemingly few consequences, on just a few hours of sleep… you start to make decisions that violently rob your potential for getting sleep.

This last week has been particularly bad. Less than a week after finally switching back to the night watch, I had to stay up until 3pm for something. (Well, I thought that staying up until 3pm was my best option.) The sleep patterns that I kept (just a few hours of sleep here and there, when I could fit it in) for the few days leading up to (and immediately following) that night have left me in a really bad position. I keep waking up after about three hours of sleep and cannot seem to get back to it. And I’m having a lot of trouble getting to sleep in the first place.

Which brings me to this point. I’m done with it. This is ridiculous. I’m not going to reconcile with the fact that I just don’t get much sleep. I’m going to do something about it. This HAS TO CHANGE.

I have a lot of bad habbits to break. I have a lot to learn about trusting and resting and waiting on the Lord. I have a lot going against me. But I am desperate to do what my mind and my body need… I need to sleep.



  1. Hope you get the sleep thing figured out. Insufficient sleep can lead to all sorts of medical problems, even weight gain. But it’s also the case that our idea of sleeping in one 8 hour block alone or with at most 1 other person isn’t necessarily ‘normal’. Other cultures have different norms for sleeping. You might start by looking at polyphasic sleep.

  2. I feel your pain! I tend to be the same way. That’s why I seldom have tea, even though I love it. Every now and then I’ll have some and I’m fine, but every once in a while I end up being awake for a couple days, vowing to never have caffeine again… Until next time, of course!

    Tell you what: you pray that I will sleep, and I will pray that you will sleep. If nothing else, it will keep us busy while we wait to sleep! 😉

  3. You rebelled early against night rest, but those were some of our happiest moments in the midst of otherwise difficult times. For one thing I felt useful; walking you to sleep was something I could do better than anyone else–and, particularly, it was a way that I could connect with you before you started using words and forming complete sentences (a moment I so longed for). For another thing, your mother would read aloud from Parents magazine and she and I would talk endlessly while we waited for you to finally settle down.

    And we often attribute it the other way, but I wonder if my working third shift was God’s way of preparing us for and otherwise accommodating your natural rhythm. As I said, you surely rejected sleep in the night well before I started working it.

    A friend and I were just talking about those at-the-time inconvenient and looked-over things that we look back fondly to, and the one that came to mind for me was that sweaty patch (sweating really isn’t any fun outside of an athletic context) I’d get on my chest when you feel asleep and I carefully lay down with you still resting against me (lest you wake up). Whatever else babies are–eating and pooping machines is what comes to mind ;-)–they are certainly bundles of warmth. 🙂

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