Saturday, July 27, 2019

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Beeeeep. Beeeeep. Beeeeep.

You reach out in the darkness to silence the alarm, then rub your eyes and yawn as you slowly wake up. Funny, you feel considerably groggier than normal today. Like you were yanked out of a deep sleep hours ahead of schedule. You pull the covers tighter around you and notice that you feel unusually chilly, deep in your bones. Weird.

As you prepare to roll out and face the day, you glance at the clock. 

Wait. It says 2 a.m.

That can't be right.

So you grab your phone and bring up your calendar. First meeting of the day is scheduled for 3 a.m.

This makes no sense. Your normal wake-up time is 7 a.m. which gets you to work by 8 a.m. 

But something has clearly gone seriously wrong. 

Breakfast at this hour is a joke. Who's hungry in the middle of the night? You force yourself to take a few quick bites of whatever you can find, since even running the toaster seems more trouble than it's worth. You drag yourself through your getting-ready ritual, skipping all but the most essential steps, and manage to show up to work on time.

Bleary-eyed and sleep-starved, you stagger through that 3 a.m. meeting and then try to make some headway on your project. Strangely, everyone you meet is chipper and apparently well-rested. They joke about your lack of energy, give you some tips about how to be a better morning person, and knowingly smile at each other over their coffee cups.

Coffee, by the way, is not helping. Kinda makes that empty stomach feel queasy, not really clearing out the cobwebs. 

Around 8 a.m., your usual lunch mates pop by and ask if you're ready to eat. That sounds good. Your head is finally starting to clear and your appetite is raging. Let's go!

Back at work after lunch, you finally hit your stride. You can still feel the effects of that crazy early wake-up call, but you're in your groove now and the next few hours fly by as your energy finally kicks in. 

By noon, still riding high and feeling productive, you notice that everyone else is packing up and heading for home. How can it be time to go already? Seems like a horrible waste of your focus and drive to leave now, but apparently, that's how it goes. 

Back home, there's dinner to make, laundry to run, family routines to be managed. But as the sun starts to sink low in the sky, and you feel yourself finally starting to relax and enjoy a second wind of creative energy, another alarm beeps. 

This one declares that you have fifteen minutes to prepare for bedtime. At 6 p.m.

Your spouse and kids are rubbing their eyes and yawning big yawns, kissing you goodnight and sleepily toddling off to bed, while you sit in shocked disbelief

Why would anyone want to go to sleep at 6 p.m? The evening has just begun! You're not the least bit sleepy; in fact, you're feeling better than you have all day, ready to take on some fun projects of your own.  If you went to bed now, you'd waste all that momentum and end up lying on your back and staring at the ceiling until your normal bedtime, around eleven.

But nothing is normal anymore, is it?

* * * * *

This is not a screenplay for Black Mirror or an old episode of the Twilight Zone.

This is what it's like to live with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. 

This is how it feels to have a perfectly natural and totally healthy sleep cycle that just happens to work on a five-hour delay, compared to most other people.

This is my life.

^ People often ask me how I can possibly sleep through the bright light of morning. "You must have the best black-out curtains in the world," one commented. The truth is that light doesn't bother me at all; in fact, I almost prefer sleeping in a sunlit room.  

Here's how my bedroom looks during the morning hours while I am fast asleep. 

For all my life, ever since I was ten years old, I've tried 

to fight my normal sleep patterns, 
to deny my biology, 
to fit in with what everyone else defines as normal, 
to sleep when I'm "supposed" to sleep.

But what feels normal for everyone else does not feel normal for me.

Four months ago, after consulting with my sleep doctor, I made a bold decision. I'm not forcing myself into the world's expectations anymore. 

I am sleeping when my body wants to sleep. When it demands that I sleep. Which is on about a five-hour delay from what is considered "normal." Which means, on most days, I sleep from 4 a.m. to noon. 

And now, I feel like a whole new person.

^ Though she happily snores at my side till I wake up and start moving, I don't think Gracie has Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. She's just a loyal dog who loves to sleep. 

As I share my new lifestyle with the people in my life, the vast majority of humans have no idea what I'm talking about. They simply do not understand. 

The only people who truly understand Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome are the people who have Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. We talk about these things during the deep hours of the night, when the rest of y'all are fast asleep. Most of the time, we don't even try to explain ourselves to the rest of the world. 

But that's not right.

So I have decided to talk more about Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. 
And I hope you are willilng to listen. 

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