Glimmers up the sun

I’ve now got enough data in my sleep tracking that I’m starting to see a pattern;


On one hand – It’s slightly chaos, I don’t sleep anywhere near enough, and if I nap during the day I don’t sleep well at night (Wait, being honest – If I don’t sleep well at night, I nap during the day. that’s the direction of causality, not the other way around).

Now, this is also the most stable time of year for my sleep pattern. In winter, the nights are too long, so I often end up completely nocturnal as I fall out of synch with everyone else and don’t have regular enough daylight cues to pull me back into phase with everyone else, and in summer we never get beyond maritime twilight, so I end up in a biphasic sleep cycle, taking a short nap just after sunrise then another short nap just after noon, missing the hottest part of the day.

Now, the above chart looks like chaos, until I re-divide the days so that instead of going from midnight-to-midnight, they run from falling-asleep-to-falling-asleep.


Pretty much a clear 25-hour cycle, other than on days where I’m notably sleep-deprived. Which suggests something like failing to “reset” whilst I sleep (Managed by most people by external cues, light levels, temperature etc, which make the body produce/regulate melatonin and cortisol and all that appropriately).


So here’s my “going to sleep” and “waking up” rituals.

I wake up when I wake up, usually to one of a series of alarms set between 8-9am and immediately have my morning medication. From that point, I have a two-hour window to have all the caffeine I want for the day, never more than 200mg, usually pills or an energy drink, along with a cup of tea. If I can’t physically get out of bed and go downstairs, I at least reconfigure the room into “daytime” settings – Put my desk on the bed, open the curtains and window, switch on the radio. I don’t “lie in”. I have my last cup of tea two hours after I wake up, to ensure that there’s no caffeine in my system by the time I want to go to bed.

Within an hour of sunset I do an hour of light therapy, then after that I go for a swim. After my swim I don’t switch on any screens (unless I really feel that I need company, in which case I use a yellow screen-mask and talk to a few people on Twitter), and generally avoid artificial light other than a low night-light so that I can read. At this point I might have a hot oat milk, some valerian or hops, or sometimes a small glass of port. An hour before I think I need to go to sleep, I absolutely turn off all screens, set my night light to “sunset”, then read something familiar and non-exciting until it’s too dark. I then try to sleep.

Right – It’s not perfect. I have a glass of port once every few weeks, I rely on either diphenydramine or valerian/hops to get me to sleep if I want to go to bed at a “normal” hour, and likewise need caffeine to wake up, I don’t always leave my room first thing in the morning (Because my mobility isn’t fantastic) and sometimes I need to use Skype or Twitter to keep me company if I’m in pain or anxious, which does mean having a screen switched on. But I think I have the best “sleep hygiene” that someone can possibly have in the real world, without completely structuring their whole life around it.

And my inability to sleep at normal times has made a bit of a mess of my life – I’ve lost most jobs, eventually, due to not being able to arrive in time for the morning shift (This is why I gravitated to nightclub work) and if I wake up earlier than I naturally want to I’m groggy for the rest of the day – regardless of how much sleep I’ve had. If it’s before sunrise, even if I wake up naturally, I feel sick for the whole day and can’t keep food down (Great in winter, obviously, when it’s incredibly difficult to wake up after sunrise.) I’m difficult to share a bed with, since I often come to bed really late, or get up early, or just don’t sleep properly overnight at all. I basically can’t plan to go to things which start before noon, and often I can’t plan to go to things in the evenings either, in case I’m in one of the weird (thankfully rare) phases where I go to bed in the middle of the afternoon and get up jut after midnight.

I think once I’ve got about two weeks’ more data, I’ll take it to my GP and ask them to do something about it.


11 thoughts on “Glimmers up the sun

  1. Data is always a help. Give ’em the facts.

    Sleep hygiene…Another one of those lovely catch-all concepts that some love to throw around…Yes, I did know a number of my bairns who displayed appalling sleep hygiene and thus lousy sleep patterns, but equally there were many who even with the squeakiest of cleanest behaviours could not sleep…And I have lived for a quarter of a century with someone who has odd sleep patterns, which are just about normal enough to cope with work, thanks to flexi-time.

    Over the last few years I have found that a light visor helps keep my sleep patterns straight during the winter, which I put down to “re-setting” the internal clock. Sun not rising till after 8 am, then setting by 4pm really buggers things up for me…

    We saw good results from use of melatonin with our ASD and ADHD bairns, even with some depressed bairns. Main snag there is that prescription was off licence, so a GP is unlikely to prescribe, would need to be some class of consultant…

    • I wish there was more recognition that “bad sleep hygiene” can be post-hoc as well; I used to sleep terribly as a teenager, so I would sit up late trying to tire myself out either working on the computer or doing endless chin-ups on the doorframe. And I’d sleep with the light on because if I was only going to get five minutes of sleep at a time, I might as well always wake up in the light so I could read without having to get up and do the lightswitch, et cetera. If I gave up all of that stuff, I just stared at the ceiling in the dark for hours on end.

      Kind of glad it really is not must me that gets completely fucked up by the midwinter complete-lack-of-light. Moving South has (almost) helped with that, but we’ve got hills here, so are still in the shadow of them for more of the day.

      Is a light visor like a light therapy lamp, but strapped to your head?

      I did once ask the GP for melatonin, in sheer desperation (at least pertially to get across that I didn’t want zopis, because my proper insomnia-insomnia generally burns itself out after a couple of weeks of minimal sleep, but that I just wanted to regulate *when* I slept, not how much), but the reply was that it was only for geriatric patients and I’d have to have a Hot Milky Drink instead.

      I don’t know if I’m relieved or horrified that a fellow-medical-professional has/sees the same GP problems as I (a lowly non-medic) do.

      Very worried that I’m going to show them the data and they’ll say a) this can’t be accurate and b) that the stress of writing up my sleep schedule has made my sleep go wrong.

      • Yup, the visor is a version of an SAD light but strapped to forehead: I went for that so I could move around and do stuff rather than having to sit still for whatever period of time.

        Your GP is partially correct in that melatonin is only licensed in the UK for use with elderly patients, but it is commonly prescribed off license by appropriately qualified medics, generally consultants.

        PS I hate milky drinks of any sort, so anyone ever suggesting that to me would get NO shrift at all.

      • Ooh that’s a good idea.

        And likewise – The biggest reason that the “hOT? MLiKY DRiNN=K??!??!” advice annoys me is that I’m vegan, have been for years, and I’ve told my doctors this more than once…

  2. S’ok, I’m not going to go on about sleep hygiene. I stick to it too and it annoyingly makes no difference, just means that on top of the fatigue I’m tired too, which doesn’t help! I don’t have naps though in case I can’t sleep later but that doesn’t work, I just end up sleep deprived.

    I have seen melatonin scripts in community (i.e. prescribed by GP) though this might have been initiated by a specialist, admittedly.

    I was wondering about your swim. How near is it to trying to get to sleep? Just wondering if the exercise is too stimulating?

    Interesting blog šŸ™‚

    • I’ve sometimes wondered if the swim is partially to blame (though the sleep problems have taken a similar pattern and been ongoing since I was about 11), since it’s usually between 8-10, but on the other hand that’s the only open session I can get to, and without the swim I end up in so much pain by the end of the day that I can’t sleep anyway.

      Cheers šŸ˜€

    • Ooh good point – I put it on briefly when I’m waking up, but I thought the point was to do it after sunset, when there was no other light, to add an extra hour of “daylight”.

      I’ll try switching it to the morning, and see what happens šŸ˜€

      • I’ve always used mine first thing in the day and the instructions say to do that. I’ve never tried using it in the evening though. It’s known to be stimulating so worth maybe trying not doing the one after sunset and switching it to the morning. When I first started using mine I used to feel sort of buzzing afterwards and that’s the stimulation it causes, so it may well be contributing to you not sleeping. The light is needed in the morning to wake you up and it’s that end of the day where the problems occur with the brain not really waking properly because of the dark mornings, is what I’ve always read, so might be worth a go. I’ve not got into a proper routine yet with it this Autumn but let me know how you get on with it šŸ™‚

  3. Percy, do give the light a go first thing in the morning: I use mine for 30-40 minutes when I get up (still getting up around 7.15-30 despite retirement, partially to maintain a routine but also ‘cos there is no way The Bread Goddess would get out of the house if I didn’t get up and make coffee) and find it helps in doing a bit of re-setting of internal clock.

    I am also considering getting some brighter “daylight” stylee light bulbs for use in the living room given how little daylight I can see some winter days.

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