As the parent of a newborn baby (ain’t he cute?), my sleep these days is pretty much toast. Seven weeks in, I’ve accepted that I’m not going to sleep for a period of more than two hours at a time for the foreseeable future.
But I’m not sleep deprived; I’m getting about seven hours of sleep a night, sometimes more.
Still, I’m not waking up refreshed at all.
That’s because I’m actually suffering from sleep fragmentation, in which multiple awakenings throughout the night limit the amount of restorative sleep I get. Deep sleep and long bouts of REM are on the decline, and more of my night consists of light sleep.
This distinction is important as it puts me in the same camp as millions of other insomniacs who do not feel rested when waking up in the morning, despite having lain in bed for eight hours or more. The most common causes for insomnia – besides having a baby in the house – include diabetes and health conditions with chronic pain.
And more recently, financial anxiety.
Undiagnosed sleep conditions like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome are also big sleep zappers because they cause hundreds of awakenings a night that are so short they aren’t remembered.
This descent into the territories of insomnia has made me sensitive to the attitudes I hear in the media and around town everyday that seem to make light of the importance of sleep.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
“Sleep is for the weak.”
Ah yes and my favorite: “Real men don’t need sleep.”
The masochismo is intense, and culturally enforced. I used to work at an office where co-workers would brag about how little sleep they got the night before, as a badge of honor of how busy they were. (They were shitty employees too).
Sleeplessness is more than an irritation. It’s actually been declared a public health crisis. Apparently for every twenty people who think they can get by on five hours of sleep, only one of them is correct and the other 19 are chronically sleep deprived.
Let’s be absolutely clear: our culture does not care if we sleep.
It makes me really angry. And because I’m presenting suffering from constant sleep fragmentation, my brain is less able to process positive emotions and more likely to make me fly off the handle.
Screw it, here’s my rant:
Society actually profits from our sleeplessness, because when we’re tired, we eat more, work more, buy more, and watch more media.
When our base needs aren’t being met and our hormonal systems are out of whack, we are more likely to fill this void with consumer products, drugs and distractions.
In my opinion, this is not a conspiracy, and although the effect appears more sinister than mere benign neglect, it’s probably more about short-sighted returns on human capital.
Because if businesses were really interested in productivity, (Workers with fatigue cost employers more than 10o billion dollars compared with workers without fatigue), we’d have sleep rooms in every business park.
If our culture really looked out for our health, teenagers would be allowed to sleep in. Aviation officials would be allowed to take naps. Doctors would have less grueling internships, resulting in less life-threatening errors.
And new dads would be less grumpy, because there would be shorter lines at the cafe.
I am not exaggerating: sleeping in is a revolutionary act.
So let’s act in solidarity and take back our world, one nap at a time.
We’ll start the revolution here. Comment below and share your most inappropriate, ahem, revolutionary napping act.
Pete Celano (pj) says
Hey there, Ryan! Great post.
I don’t know about revolutionary, but I’m one of those people who benefits tremendously from daily naps – even very short ones. I find that even if I am not feeling tired I can “meditate” myself to sleep in a matter of minutes so long as it is mid-afternoon.
Having an infant in the house is challenging in so many ways, but it also lets us know just how much we can endure! My wifeling and I used to trade off nights so we each would at least get uninterrupted sleep every other night. I wish I had been into lucid dreaming back then – the REM rebound effect was always dramatic.
Enjoy it, my friend. Some of the best times of my life were those when one of our babies fell asleep on my chest. That’s what it’s all about, man. Nirvana.
Ryan Hurd says
switching nights is a great idea. we’ve taken to a pattern like that, giving each other mornings to sleep in as well. you’re right about REM rebound — that’s another article for another time
I am a night shift nurse. My alloted hours are 7pm to about 7:30 am (on a good night when the stars align and I get out on time). This does not take into account the time to wake up in the afternoon, get dressed, make my lunch (eaten around 2am…usually at my computer while charting), drive to work and look up my assignment. This does also does not take into account the time spent driving home from work (in morning rush hour traffic weekdays) and settling my brain to relax into sleep mode. Sometimes I work three night shifts in a row. If the stars align (once again) I will fall asleep around 9:30am and wake up around 4pm. That is 6.5 glorious hours of sleep if I’m lucky. During daylight hours. Which is not natural. I am an Oncology nurse. I also (for now) live with and take care of my mentally ill mother. Ever heard the phrase “compassion fatigue”? yeah. Fragmented sleep with lots on my mind? oh yeah.
That being said, I have been a revolutionary napper in my past life when I was an office assistant at a mortgage company. On certain hot summer days when the bosses were out surfing (“board meetings”) I would go to the conference room, shut the door with a “meeting in progress” sign and take a nice nap under the conference room table 🙂
p.s. I found your site and have been receiving your emails for quite some time now because I’ve experienced sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming. The most profound and awesome experiences of my life which have made an indelible print on my consciousness. I love my dream worlds. Synchronicity and intuition visit me often in my waking world. Thanks for what you do.
Ryan Hurd says
thanks Hilary for sharing your story. It’s no coincidence that most sleep deprivation studies with working adults are with night nurses! I guess the lemonade is the increased ability to lucid dream and have sleep paralysis adventures, which are definitely linked to interruptions in the sleep/wake cycle.
Laura Mason Lockard says
He IS cute, and boy does he look like you!
I can totally feel your pain on this one. For me the sleep deprivation was the most difficult thing about having an infant. Mine was particularly ornery and refused to sleep through the night until he was 18 months old (this is rare). At 18 months I was forced to Ferberize him or facing loosing my job, then our house, etc.
Most of them start to ease up on you at 6-8 weeks. You will start geting 4 hour blocks of sleep instead of 2, and then the next thing you know you wake up one morning and realize you’ve slept all night, and you will panic thinking CRIB DEATH! You will run into his room and – OMG, he’s fine! He slept through the night!
I too have co-workers who brag about how little they sleep. What’s worse is my husband does this! He used to think that sleeping a lot is lazy, irresponsible, etc. My revolutionary act is to nap and sleep in anyway, with nothing sticking out from under the comforter but my middle finger. Over the years hearing about my lucid dreams, he is starting to develop more of an appreciation for sleep. He will even take a nap sometimes if I take one with him (which I am always happy to do). So you might say I have partially reformed one of these folks, LOL.
BTW my “baby” is now 13 – I do let him sleep in! However you have to wake them up for lunch or else they start sleeping all day and staying up all night which is not very compatible with school attendance. Also one worries about what kind of trouble they’re getting into while everyone else is asleep!
You are very correct about all the bad advice from society about sleep. It is the same with healthcare in general. One of our friends had a heart attack recently – do you think they told her to improve her diet or exercise? Nope! But they are more than happy to sell her $500 per month worth of drugs. To live healthy is to swim upstream in this society.
Hang in there, it will get easier soon!
Ryan Hurd says
thanks for the encouragement Laura! This “four hours block of sleep” you speak of sounds really wonderful. 🙂
Clara Dina says
As always, thanks for a great article. Loved the picture of your little one. Interesting that the photo is of him sleeping. That’s what infants do, and we think that’s so cute (and it is!). However, we don’t think the same about adults and their sleep patterns. (I’ve been known to fall asleep at parties, and no one thinks that’s cute…)
The place where I stand quite firmly is on weekend sleep. It is not unusual for me to awake from 10-12 hours of sleep on Saturday and Sunday mornings. On those days, I feel so refreshed. But my workaholic tendencies get the best of me, and I typically get less than 7-8 during the work week.
For many years, I have been aware of the effects of sleep deprivation. Long before sleep studies were the rage, I knew “in y body” that I had to make up any sleep deficit that may have occurred. Without that, I just wasn’t on my game, and frankly I was so pleasant to be around.
With my strong interest in dream work (and my focus spiritual discernnent which comes through nocturnal messages) over the past 10 yrs, it is clear that the more quality rest that I get, the clearer the messages. Everybody wins when I am able to be more compassionate, more rested, and more intentional about how I steward my energy in waking life.
So, thanks for inviting your readers to share in this revolutionary stance.
Wishing you a REM-ful sleep!
Ryan Hurd says
great line: “Everybody wins when I am able to be more compassionate, more rested, and more intentional about how I steward my energy in waking life.”
true that! We would have a kinder, gentler society if more people realized this.
He is adorable, and someday this incessant waking will end. Today was my first day since Christmas to sleep in. I’ve been setting my alarm at dawn and getting up to write. Hope to get my manuscript in by first of March.
At dawn today, I dreamed that army occupiers came to roust me out from a luxury nap in a beautiful meadow. In the dream, I knew this was my property. It was a cartoon-type dream that made me laugh at my own disregard for the benefits of a much needed sleep in.
Enjoy your son!
Ryan Hurd says
So glad to hear you’re writing your book! I will be first in line, you know. (even if the book is being commissioned by your own inner soldiers!)
Mary Pat says
Great post! Two personal insights on this topic:
When my kids were teens, I realized their sleep needs were completely crosswise with their schedules. Our rural district had one set of buses, so the older kids had to get up way early and use the buses first, despite the fact that the younger ones would have been better off with the early hours. Ideas about what was right triumphed over what would have worked.
When I was a full-time professional with two young children, I often felt a sense of existential despair, the overwhelming feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I could never, ever catch up. I got very ill, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and began a long, slow climb back into relative health. During that process, which demanded lots and lots of rest, I realized one day that the existential despair had been, in fact, simple physical exhaustion. When I was not exhausted, I did not despair. Sounds like a “duh!” but it was a revelation to me at the time. I sleep more now!
Ryan Hurd says
it’s so much easier to see these patterns in other people’s lives, isn’t it?
Have you ever seen Arianna Huffington’s video about “sleeping it to the top” ? She talks about how her exhaustion almost destroyed her life before she began to respect her body signals. And now she credits her sleep habits for her success.
Here’s the video: http://www.ted.com/talks/arianna_huffington_how_to_succeed_get_more_sleep.html
Steven Perry says
I stayed in bed from 10PM to 8:30AM this morning. Vive la révolution! Was it rebellious? In a way. Most of the people I know are out getting drunk, getting high, or doing something high-octane until the wee early hours of the morning on any given weekend night (I used to be one of them), and thus return to work or school on Monday with just as much debt to their sleep bank as they had on Friday.
I say: No way! Sleep is an extremely valued commodity for us lucid dreamers. Few things are more precious (present infants excepted of course). If my work forces me to get the bare minimum on the weekdays then the weekend is REM payback time.
For your own experience, god speed, Ryan. I’ve had some polyphasic sleeping experiences when I’ve messed around with Galantamine (it is NOT easy to fall asleep on that stuff) and I do not envy you. May you one day find that cafe with no line, great food, and even better coffee.
Ryan Hurd says
Vive la révolution indeed! lol
Peter Maich says
Great post, 20 years at sea, 10 on small boats and constant motion, 10 on factory ships with rosters of 6 hours on 6 hours off for 7 weeks at at time, one stint of 12 on and 6 off (18 hours a day) for 14 weeks and I am a very experianced sleep deprived person. Then came the children the first 2 close together and they woke up on avg 6 times a night between them and that was the worst as they needed attention when I least had the energy. Happy to say I found the answers that worked for me and If I need sleep I will sleep. I will stop my car and nap if needed – sleep comes first
Ryan Hurd says
wow. Besides nurses, seamanship includes the greatest pool of sleep deprivation sufferers in the workforce. awesome that you found a way to adapt.. that’s revolutionary too.
If more people did what you do for drowsy driving, we’d have thousands of fewer fatalities on the road. Incident reports are skewed to blame alcohol, but actually many accidents are the combo of alcohol and sleep deprivation.
First, yes, that baby is a looker.
I’m not a big napper, but I do believe in going to bed early. 8 – 10 hours of sleep is what I need to function well. I tend to wake up throughout the night, but I try not to sweat it too much. I also don’t use an alarm to wake up, usually.
Thought of you today, as I had a sleep paralysis nightmare last night! I was more educated for this one, and talked myself through it, though I forgot the toe wiggle! I am staying in a historic hotel in Portland, OR, and actually researched the hotels for ghosts, as my dream visitor was so realistic. May keep the lights on tonight…
Ryan Hurd says
whoa cool — talk to to hotel staff (not the manager) and you may find out more too about visitations. many historic hotels have localized lore like this.
Hi there 🙂
This is my first post here, although I’ve been reading articles for quite some time now. I’m a professional fire fighter from Germany and we work 24-hour shifts from 7am till 7am the next day. Our watch gets quite a few call outs, also during the night. Over the last 9 years I’ve made a few observations regarding sleep:
After some time it seemed like I didn’t wake up completely, when there was a call out. I listen for the announcement through the speaker, of who is on the call out and if it’s not me, then I just drop straight back to sleep. In the morning I can’t remember all the call outs though. Some people don’t get used to it and have trouble going back to sleep after a call out. You really have to learn to sleep fast and any time when you’re in the fire brigade.
On rare occasions, when I’m in a phase of really deep sleep or dreaming intensely and I’m woken up by a call out, it’s like being hit over the head with a hammer! It’s like “Where am I?! – What the hell is going on ?!”, heart racing and feeling dizzy. In this case you feel like a zombie for the first 5 minutes or so, as if not fully awake but still moving. This can be extremely dangerous of course. Once I felt dizzy and had double vision and reached for “the wrong pole” to slide down. Luckily I already had one leg wrapped round it and got hold of the right pole just in time.
Apparently firefighters don’t drop into deep sleep, when they’re at work. I’m not so sure if this applies to everybody. It does to me I think, as I sometimes already wake up when the loudspeaker cracks, just before the light goes on and the gong sounds. Some colleagues need a pager right next to their head or have to be woken up by someone else in the dorm because they often don’t hear the normal call out.
On a really bad day, when there’s been a lot to do during the day and maybe 6 or 7 call outs during the night, I tend to have what I call stress dreams. Those are work-related dreams that tend to be quite nightmareish, like being attacked by zombies on a call out.
I also had a dream once or twice, in which plot took me into being at work and there being a call out, just before there really was one – very strange…
Anyway, long phases of severe sleep deprivation (2 weeks and 6 shifts a year, when there is a special festival in out city), really get to my immune system, make me really ratty and not very stress resistant. I’ve learnt how precious sleep really is…
Ryan Hurd says
I know exactly what you mean about waking up and feeling absolutely disoriented. that’s called sleep inertia, and yeah, it’s from being awakened from deep sleep. some studies have actually shown that cognitive abilities are so impaired in sleep inertia (which can last for 15 minutes after awakening) that it’s like being drunk. those are good times to not be behind the wheel!
I agree, 100%. I’m going to add something shallow but true to your list: if our society cared about sleep, we’d all be a lot better looking!
I had problems with sleep fragmentation due to chronic pain. I started taking 5-HTP before bed and I sleep well now. I know it won’t help in your case, but perhaps the tip will be useful to someone reading this.
Ryan Hurd says
hey KMG so true about beauty sleep! A recent study just found that attractiveness ratings go up at least 5% when someone has slept in.
thanks for the 5htp tip too.
Getting enough sleep is as important as diet and exercise for my overall sense of well-being and sticking to my sleep routine is a priority for me. I often encounter sleep-negative attitudes when I turn down invitations to late night events that would interfere with a good night’s rest, which for me means sleeping the same hours every night – a privilege of those of us who aren’t parents.
I appreciate your article. I’ll do my part to encourage sleep-positive discourse and politely let macho sleep adversaries know they are promoting a public health crisis.
Ryan Hurd says
Next time someone says I’ll sleep when I’m dead, just tell them “and that eventuality is coming 5-10 years earlier for you.” that’s a real party pleaser.
and I aim to please. 🙂
Max R. says
“Society actually profits from our sleeplessness, because when we’re tired, we eat more, work more, buy more, and watch more media.”
good phrase.. i’m think in the same way about our (European-style) social and cultural constructedness of sleep/dreams/wake relations and traditions of understanding of this phenomenon.
Al Moniz says
How about this one – “Sleep is over rated!” I hear that all the time.
Kat Duff says
I really enjoy reading your blog. Sleep is precious to me, and I consider it to be one of our natural resources, right up there with air and water. And like our other natural resources, industrialization has been slowly taking it away from us – and now they’re selling it back to us! Just like the water.
I agree that sleep is revolutionary. I wonder what our world would be like if our government and corporate leaders had enough sleep.