Sometimes I put it down to my age. You’re told, aren’t you, that teenagers need more sleep and older people need less? I’ve always been kind of okay on 6-7 hours of sleep, but it has been a long time since I got even six hours in a night, and I am not okay with it.
Teaching brings with it a unique set of pressures: students you can’t get onside, pointless admin, the stress of inspections and so on. Every now and then this can affect your ability to get off to sleep or sleep through the night. But it comes and goes. The year follows a pattern. The first term is full-on, dark, miserable, and hard. The second term, as the days get longer, things ease up a bit. By the third term, the exams start kicking in and the pressure transfers more onto the students (or should) and the classes finish, and the sun comes out.
But it’s been a couple of years now, and I’ve not been sleeping, regardless of the time of year. First of all, I can’t get into the right frame of mind to sleep at night. I’ve tried to help the process by cutting down on caffeine, limiting evening screentime, reading printed books again, and buying a new bedside lamp. The lamp seemed to improve things for a bit, but I soon started having the same old problems. The second of these is when I wake during the night (which I know is a natural part of the sleep process), I often can’t get to sleep again. So I’ll wake at one in the morning, and I’ll be awake a long time. Or three in the morning, and that’s all the sleep I’m getting tonight. Finally, when I do sleep, I always wake up too early and then can’t back to sleep again, not even to doze fitfully until dawn.
So you’re constantly behind, and then of course the sleep anxiety kicks in, and it begins to consume you.
Eventually, I gave in and went to the doctor. This is remarkable for me. Part of the stress of holding a job these days is the difficulty you have in making time for these kinds of appointments. To get a planned appointment takes weeks, and my employer makes it very difficult to arrange time off. It’s easier to just pull a sickie and put the doctor on repeat dial until you get through. It so happened there was a Friday when I wouldn’t really be generating any work for anybody else by taking time off, so I went to see the doctor and got some sleeping pills. I know how common these are, but this is my first experience with them.
First of all, not being able to drink was a bummer. I’m not a heavy drinker, one bottle of beer or a couple of glasses of wine is my upper limit, and I usually stop very early, but still, I avoided alcohol – reluctantly. I took the pill downstairs in the kitchen and went for a quick bath. I suppose I was in bed within 20 minutes.
I read for a bit, as usual. I’ve been reading Dracula, and finding it heavy going (going on at length being its main flaw), but dropped it for the weekend in favour of John Scalzi’s Lock-in, which is a much easier read when you’re feeling woozy from lack of sleep and/or a pill.
I didn’t feel drowsy in the usual sense, but woozy I suppose is the best word. A bit spaced out. I put the book down and turned off the light. Would sleep come?
It did. My mind was less active, less focused, and I think I fell asleep within minutes. I did wake a couple of times during the night, but went straight back under. I also woke early, but not ridiculously so, and was able to doze until it was time to get up. On a Saturday, you’d hope for a lie-in, but we were going to a university open day, so I was up at six for the long drive.
But I slept. And on the Saturday night, also slept. The true test came on Sunday night. Would I be able to get away the night before work? Would I be able to sleep through to the alarm?
I did find it harder getting to sleep. Now the problem might have been that I wasn’t all that tired after having two good nights. So maybe going to bed later might become an option (I confess I’ve been going up between nine and ten for a long time). Anyway, it took longer to drift away. And I woke up early. I think about five, about 45 minutes before my alarm is set, which meant I was a little later than usual. Most mornings, 4:30 is my (frustrating) awake time. So I got an extra half an hour, but in front of that was a fairly decent night’s sleep.
I know a lot of people don’t like sleeping pills because they make you feel zombie-like even during the day. I get this, and I suppose if I’m honest I didn’t feel fully awake until 11 o’clock or so. I was okay to drive, I hope, but definitely felt brighter later in the morning. And, what the hell, it’s only work.
My next move is to try going to bed later.