Most of the relationships I have are simple. At least, outside of my head and my heart, things are simple. I like simple relationships. I don’t like drama, betrayals, accusations, and thankfully most of my friends, family, colleagues, and so on, seem to feel the same. Sometimes inside my head things get a bit more complicated and I begin to want things to be different to how I can expect them to be. Everyone does this, right? Anyway, it’s not important.
My relationship with sleep has never been simple. Perhaps it’s a chicken-and-egg thing … what came first, the sleeping disorders or the mental health issues? Personally I’m inclined to believe that my problems with sleep were exacerbated by low moods and stress, rather than causing them – although I’m sure the lows would be less low if I felt properly rested.
Recently, I did a minor desk-study about how adolescents sleep, which left me thinking about how the school timetable could be negatively affecting a significant proportion of secondary-school-aged pupils. According to various studies, the body-clock of adolescents lends itself to wakefulness in the afternoon and evening: something called ‘eveningness’. As we get older, our body-clocks recalibrate and we begin to feel more wakeful in the morning, hence middle-aged people waking up at 4:30 in the morning feeling wide awake. But that teenager at your breakfast table who can’t string two words together and just grunts at you… well, apparently, it’s biology, and they should still be asleep until late morning. Whether or not teenagers would be any less grumpy if they were going to school at 11am till 6pm is not for me to say; although among the teenagers I come into contact with, it does sometimes seem as though they absolutely relish being miserable.
My first serious bout of insomnia came when I was 19, in the halcyon post-finals period that the locals in my university town probably dreaded; as it meant mounds of students with nothing else to do, sprawled over any surface in direct sunlight from daybreak till opening time. I don’t think I’d ever had such a clump of unstructured free-time before, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt as though there were endless things I should have been doing – like sorting out summer work, or volunteering, or even (don’t be too shocked) doing some reading in preparation for the next year’s courses, but the days disappeared in endless games of frisbee and box-sets of 24, and nights began to follow the same pattern of berating myself for not having done anything productive since the end of May. After a couple of weeks of being unable to sleep for more than about twenty minutes at a time, I called a friend and we went on an epic midnight ramble through the surrounding countryside: scrambling through brambles; sliding through mud; and getting horribly lost, only realising where we were when the sun came up at about 5 o’clock. I got back home at about 7, ate some breakfast, and slept for almost 24 hours.
Ten years later, I’ve developed many more strategies for dealing with periods of sleeplessness. Filling each day with a variety of physical and mental tasks helps. So does Horlicks. Generally I find that playing Bon Iver’s latest album, or High Violet by The National (my absolute favourite record) helps calm me down and take my mind off other things so that sleep comes more readily. Only once have I had to ask a GP for chemical assistance – that was when I was working nights in a job I hated, but after nearly two months I was still unable to sleep during the day and it was beginning to send me seriously loopy.
For the last two weeks I’ve had the opposite problem. I’m falling asleep on the sofa by about 9pm, whether I’ve finished all my work or not, and I have to go to bed and drag myself up in the cold at 5 in order to get everything done for the day ahead. Even if I take a nap, I can’t stay up later than about 11pm. At weekends, I can sleep for ten or twelve hours. Caffeine doesn’t keep me awake, and I’ve dozed off on friends’ sofas a couple of times, which is embarrassing!
It’s not a problem, really. Except that last night I wanted to watch The Running Man, but I was fast asleep on the sofa more than an hour before the film started. Luckily I taped it by mistake.
Here is a lyrically appropriate song. I love stop-motion music videos.