helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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The combination of DSPS and SAD, and how this works for me.

Or why I am almost entirely dependent on artificial UV to maintain any kind of regular sleep schedule. One of these lj entries that started off as a comment in someone else's journal, and then I realised it was important enough to copy into my own.

I'm very much a night-time person. It's strange, because I have both Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and SAD. Which is a bizarre combination: DSPS is like permanent jetlag - left to myself my body clock drifts until I'm on [local time +8] hours, and generally stabilises around there. Left to myself I get up mid-to-late afternoon and get sleepy around 5am. It's really fucking bizarre that coupled to that I also suffer terribly with depression and moodiness if I don't get enough daylight.

Or is it? The fact is, living where I do, the only time I get "enough" daylight is during midsummer. Most of the time it's grey and miserable. So it's only at night when I'm sitting under an electric light that I'm getting enough of the kind of UV I need to be happy. Thus, my psuedoscientific analysis states that my subconscious brain wants me to sit up late with bright UV streaming into my face, and sleep during the day when the grotty weak natural UV is operating.

I don't know if this has any basis in real science, but I've found what works well is to try to sit under a weak light for at least an hour before I go to bed. Bright desk lamps and computers are terrible, because they're giving out the sort of UV that suppresses melatonin production (this at least is a genuine scientific fact). On top of this, most computer games and certain types of reading are brain-stimulating, and thus a bad thing for me to do before bed. It's taken literally years for me to figure this out, and even then I still backtrack occasionally (like tonight, when I am still sitting here. Going to sit in bed with my other light as soon as this is posted, though).

For me, with DSPS, the worst possible thing I could ever do would be to try to reset my bodyclock by forcing myself out of bed at a particular time. Because what happens is instead of lying awake for a couple of hours until I reach the time when sleepiness kicks in, I lie awake for almost the entire night, panicking about the likelihood of sleeping through the alarm, and get very disturbed sleep. Then in the morning, I'm exhausted, and although I'll berate myself, turn the alarm off and go back to sleep so I can actually get enough sleep to be functional. I'll wake up late, still exhausted, and with a huge heap of guilt to go with it. Any of this sound familiar?

So that technique doesn't work for me. There's a couple of other techniques that can be used. One is to simply take melatonin tablets an hour before the time you need to go to sleep, so that your brain is naturally tired at the right time. This doesn't work for me, because I have weird biochemistry (more about that in this ancient journal entry (huh, you can tell how ancient it is by the fact I was still lactose-tolerant!)). Some people with DSPS find that staying awake for 18 hours or whatever works as a way of resetting themselves onto day schedule, but once again this doesn't work for me. I find that if I stay awake for 18 or 19 hours, I then sleep for 18 or 19 and end up back on the same schedule I was trying to get away from. Trying to wake me up after 8 hours, at the time I'm supposed to wake up, just doesn't happen. I can't wake up at all by myself (I could have an alarm ring constantly for an hour and sleep through it), and even if someone else comes in and physically shakes me awake, I can't get up - I ramble and make no sense. Even if I sit up or try to get out of bed, I'll fall asleep again sitting up or just fall over on the floor and go to sleep there.

People, particularly "morning" people, rarely understand my problems with sleep. When people say "Even though you think your body wants to be awake at night time, you really will feel better if you get up in the morning", I feel patronised. I think "okay morning person, how would you feel if you were forced out of bed every day at 10pm and had to try to get to sleep at noon?". My entire life (going back to toddlerhood) I've been a night-time person, and the best I can ever manage is a compromise. (Mystical types might like to take note of the fact that I was born at 10.20pm, and that tends to be my most active time of day). I can't wait until someone with some power actually takes note of the extensive research going back to the 60s that says that around 70% of teenagers are not able to get up in the morning, not because of laziness, but because their body clocks are disrupted by hormones - that this problem persists throughout puberty, and for some percentage of adults never goes away - and say "Ah, let's switch some of our schools over to working 12pm to 6.30pm, and give kids the choice of going to a morning school or an afternoon school" - I'll be first in line to volunteer to teach there! Blah.

I'm getting out of bed most mornings now by a combination of an antidepressant that makes me sleep for 8 hours after I take it, an alarm clock with a light-box attached to it where the light comes on half an hour before the alarm goes off to try to convince my UV-craving brain it's a good time to be awake, a lot of willpower, and the fact I need to be up at that time. 3 out of the 4 isn't enough for me to stay on that schedule, which means I drift like mad during the holidays. It doesn't help if I don't get enough sleep during the week and "need" to catch up at the weekend. Unfortunately, making sure I get enough sleep during the week sometimes requires hyper-excellent planning skills to make sure I get everything done, and even though I'm signficantly more organised than a lot of people, it's still difficult. Staying up late for just one night can knock over the rest of the week.

I do envy people who are able to maintain a regular sleep schedule with no work. I do wish my internal clock was wired to 24 hours and not 26. But I find it really bloody annoying that I'm told I'm broken by patronising people who think insomnia is not being able to get to sleep for a whole half hour after going to bed (I feel positively excited if I wake up in the morning and realise I only remember being awake for about 15 minutes after going to bed!). And according to the social model of disability, I'm disabled not by my broken body clock and crap biochemistry, but by the world's insistence that professional people work from 8-9am to 5-6pm, regardless of personal circumstances.
Tags: sad, sleep disorders

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